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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.

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  • 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.
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Instructions for You

As American policymakers asked American taxpayers to support the unprecedented levels of military spending called for in NSC-68, they described the unique character of the Soviet threat. In this exercise, your students will draw upon their readings to present a Soviet rebuttal to American characterizations of their policies. 

Show your students the following quote from NSC-68, then ask them 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.

"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."

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. Read the quote below, which comes from an important 1950 policy document called NSC-68, and then write a one-page response from the Soviet point of view. In drafting this response, you should think about how the Soviets would characterize and defend their postwar policies and how they would characterize American postwar (and perhaps wartime) decisions.

"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

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