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Teaching Guide

Teaching Causes of the Cold War

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Contrary to what many students (and, admittedly, a few of us) may think, the Cold War wasn't caused by a moose, squirrel, and a couple of spies with thick Russian accents. Instead of Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha, we have Truman, MacArthur, McCarthy, and Stalin.

In this guide you will find

  • writing assignments asking students to look at the other side of the Cold War.
  • activities analyzing the images and symbols of this atomic age.
  • links to modern articles on how the Cold War is still a bit chilly today.

This guide will help you make sure the Cold War doesn't leave students frozen with boredom or confusion.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: In the National Security Council document NSC-68, American policymakers asked American taxpayers to support unprecedented levels of military spending. The reason for the buildup? The unique character of the Soviet threat, which—according to NSC-68—was "animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own."

Pretty strong words, eh? Makes you wonder what the Soviets might have thought about being characterized that way. 

In this exercise, your students will try to imagine the Soviet perspective by drawing upon their readings to present a rebuttal to American characterizations of Soviet policies. 

Length of Lesson: One class period.

Materials Needed: 

Step One: Show your students the following quote from NSC-68.

"The Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world. Conflict has, therefore, become endemic and is waged, on the part of the Soviet Union, by violent or non-violent methods in accordance with the dictates of expediency. With the development of increasingly terrifying weapons of mass destruction, every individual faces the ever-present possibility of annihilation should the conflict enter the phase of total war." (NSC-68, 1950)

Step Two: Ask your students to write a one-page response from the Soviet point of view. In drafting this response, they should think about how the Soviets would characterize and defend their own postwar policies and how the Soviets would characterize American postwar (and perhaps wartime) decisions. They can access Shmoop's Causes of the Cold War learning guide as well as other online resources—including the full text of NSC-68—for research purposes, if necessary.

Instructions for Your Students

During the early years of the Cold War, American leaders explained that unprecedented levels of peacetime military spending were now required by the unprecedented character of the Russian threat. 

Among other things, policymakers suggested that this Soviet threat was "animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own."

Pretty strong words, eh? Makes you wonder what the Soviets might have thought about being characterized that way. 

In this exercise, you'll try to imagine the Soviet perspective by drawing upon your readings to present a rebuttal to American characterizations of Soviet policies. 

Step One: Take a look at the following quote from NSC-68.

"The Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world. Conflict has, therefore, become endemic and is waged, on the part of the Soviet Union, by violent or non-violent methods in accordance with the dictates of expediency. With the development of increasingly terrifying weapons of mass destruction, every individual faces the ever-present possibility of annihilation should the conflict enter the phase of total war." (NSC-68, 1950)

Step Two: Imagine you are a Soviet diplomat in 1950 and write a one-page response to this quote from the Soviet point of view. 

In drafting your response, be sure to think about how the Soviets would characterize and defend their own postwar policies and how the Soviets would characterize American postwar (and perhaps wartime) decisions. 

You can access Shmoop's Causes of the Cold War learning guide as well as other online resources—including the full text of NSC-68—for research purposes, if necessary.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING CAUSES OF THE COLD WAR?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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