Guest Post: Using Fiction to Teach History: The Vietnam War by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Today we have a treat for our readers.  Phyllis Zimbler Miller, who wrote the Vietnam War novel Mrs. Lieutenant:  A Sharon Gold Novel –available in paperback or for Kindle — has provided us with a guest post on how fiction can be used to teach history.

Please give her a warm welcome.

How many of us remember learning about the Vietnam War in high school history classes?

Some of us may have been out of high school already when the war and the protesters raged.  Or some of us may not yet have been born.

Then there are some of us who were in high school when the Vietnam War started and were personally affected by the draft and our nation’s reaction to the fighting.

The thing is, how can high school history textbooks capture the emotions of that time?  Yes, the historical facts can be recorded in high school textbooks, but not the people behind those facts.

It took me 38 years to self-publish my novel about my first weeks as a new Mrs. Lieutenant in the spring of 1970 right after the Kent State National Guard shootings.  (If you don’t know what this historical reference is, google it.)

I wanted to preserve this very specific slice of women’s history at the beginning of the women’s movement in the U.S. when the Civil Rights Act was only six years old and the Vietnam War filled the nightly news (only three channels then – ABC, CBS and NBC) even if only on a black-and-white television.

My novel is told from the point of view of four very different women – and their stories deal with racial, religious, gender, class and geographic differences.  (Yes, in 1970 the Civil War was still being fought in the U.S.)

And so it is that I’m hoping that high school history and social studies classes will use my novel Mrs. Lieutenant to supplement the high school textbook when learning about this time in our nation’s history.

My Web site has a lesson plan for doing this.  Here’s the beginning of the lesson plan:

The assignment will be to write a guest blog post entry for the Web site about one event in the novel and relate it to the U.S. fighting in the Vietnam War at that time.  This blog post will include a brief description of the event as well as the student’s own opinion about what happened.

By focusing on one event, students will have the opportunity to delver deeper into what they thought about that specific event.

Students will better understand:

  • The opposing views regarding the Vietnam War during that time period.
  • The integration of African-Americans at that time – only six years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
  • The U.S. military then as well as the commitment of men and women who now serve.

View the rest of the lesson plan.

And the website also has a brief video on the historical background as well as discussion questions that focus on comparing then and now.

Do let me know if your high school class uses Mrs. Lieutenant to learn about the Vietnam War up close and personal.  (You can email me at pzmiller AT millermosaicllc DOT com)

And check out my site to see video clips of current documentaries and feature films about U.S. military personnel.

Thank you, Phyllis, for your look at how fiction can teach history, and we wish you luck with all of your projects.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.


  1. Thank you so much for this opportunity to share with your readers.

    And my newest military-related project is the upcoming PTSD Walk Across America for which my company Miller Mosaic Power Marketing is handling the social media marketing aspect. Join the walk’s Facebook page at

    Phyllis Zimbler Miller

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Phyllis Z. Miller, Phyllis Z. Miller. Phyllis Z. Miller said: "Using #Fiction to Teach History:The Vietnam War" #sot #military […]

  3. Great post!
    It’s what I’ve been railing on for years and why I write what I do.
    There’s a lot of great stories out there in the world which everyone can learn from and hopefully achieve a higher level of development than those who insist on repeating the same old mistakes that others have already made,
    People don’t want to read all those dry old dates and facts but if their packaged with some entertainment perhaps they’ll take the time,
    It doesn’t matter if it’s all about 1710 or 1963 it was all done by people who laughed, loved and made realy bad mistakes,


  4. I agree that fiction can be a very powerful teaching tool. In fact, a Vietnam and Literature class is what got me interested in reading about the Vietnam War in the first place. Before that, in history and political science courses in college, I was bored.

  5. Thanks for this post, Phyllis. We never seemed to get to the Vietnam War in any of my high school history classes. The classes seemed to focus heavily on the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

    I think it would be great to bring books like Mrs. Lieutenant into high school classes. I would have preferred that to a dry textbook any day!

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