Taking on the Cold War

Originally posted on June 5, 2012 by Shennan Hutton

It turns out the next Blueprint unit we’ll be developing will be on the Cold War. I’m sorry that we won’t be able to do more on the Reformation at this time, but I hope to return to it in the near future. In the meantime, there is a huge need for a comprehensive History Blueprint unit on the 10th-grade Cold War standard.

Because California’s History-Social Science Content Standards place Modern World History (1789-present) in 10th grade and twentieth-century U.S. History in the 11th grade, there are standards about the Cold War for both. These standards do not focus exclusively on the Cold War, but encompass multiple foreign policy issues under the rubric of “international development in the post-World War II world” (10.9) or “U.S. foreign policy since World War II” (11.9). We’re fortunate enough at the CHSSP to have two scholars who are experts on twentieth-century U.S. History, Beth Slutsky and Shelley Brooks. I’ll be working with them and with scholars of modern world history to write this unit. We plan to create a unit that meets both the 10th- and 11th-grade standards (10.9 and 11.9), but to design lessons in two strands, one for world history and one for American history. Some lessons, such as analysis of the causes of the Cold War, will be identical for both grades, while other lessons will be more specific to either world history or American history.

There are two great challenges to teaching the 10th-grade standard 10.9, about international developments in the post-World War II world. First, the standard includes a very wide range of topics which are not linked together into a conceptual framework. There are eight substandards. The first three focus on the breakdown of the Allied agreements at the end of WWII, the causes of the Cold War and U.S.-Soviet competition over influence in Third World nations (Egypt, the Congo, Vietnam, Chile, Korea, Cuba, and Africa.) There is no mention of decolonization or the Third World in the standard, although surely the writers intended that teachers provide some background to their students on these subjects. The fourth substandard calls for coverage of Chinese political developments from the civil war of the 1930s through Tiananmen Square in 1989; the sixth calls for the same broad sweep for “the forces of nationalism in the Middle East.” The fifth substandard returns to the Cold War in Europe to cover the uprisings in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 60s and “those countries’ resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s.” 

Substandard seven focuses on the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The final substandard calls for understanding of the United Nations, Warsaw Pact, SEATO, NATO, and the Organization of American States. In addition to the Cold War, then, the standard clearly originally intended for students to analyze decolonization, the Third World and important “hot spots” in the world, and to be familiar with international organizations and diplomatic structures. These three strands can be woven together into a conceptual whole, but the standard’s listing of at least 12 regions or countries and its allusion to more than 20 international incidents or crises (from the 1950s through the 1980s) encourage fragmentation.

The second challenge is that historical perspective about “international developments in the post-World War II world” has changed dramatically since 1997, when these standards were written. The most obvious change is the advent of the war on terror. There is also a new list of international incidents or crises that might be added to the list, such as the Iraq wars, Somalia, Kosovo and Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Perhaps it’s not as critical now to teach students about the uprisings in Eastern Europe as it was in the early 1990s when Lech Walesa was a familiar figure on western TV. Our new unit has to incorporate the development of historical perspectives on the Cold War (and on decolonization and “nation-building”) among historians during the last twenty years.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us! Send me your suggestions.

“Operation Castle, ROMEO Event – The 11-megaton ROMEO Event was part of Operation Castle. It was detonated from a barge near Bikini atoll on 26 March 1954.” Source: http://www.nv.doe.gov/library/photos/ {{PD-USGov-DOE}}, Wikipedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Castle_Romeo.jpg, (June 4, 2012).
Yalta summit in February 1945 with (from left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Also present are USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, RN, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, RAF, (standing behind Churchill); George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt). February 1945 Photo #: USA C-543 (Color). This image is a work of a U.S. Army soldier or employee, taken or made during the course of the person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain. Wikipedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yalta_summit_1945_with_Churchill,_Roosevelt,_Stalin.jpg, (June 4, 2012).
Lear 21. The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. The photo shows a part of a public photo documentation wall at Former Check Point Charlie, Berlin. This public photo documentation wall (including the displayed image) was released and featured by the Senate of Berlin. The photo is protected by copyright but permanently placed in a public area, therefore covered by §59 UrhG. Wikipedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thefalloftheberlinwall1989.JPG, (June 4, 2012).
Michelle Bachelet born September 29, 1951. Ex-Minister of State and President of Chile. This photograph was produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. Their website states: “Todo o conteúdo deste site está publicado sob a Licença Creative Commons Atribuição 3.0 Brasil “. (The content of this website is published under the Creative Commons License Attribution 3.0 Brazil). Wikipedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelle_Bachelet_Banda.jpeg, (June 4, 2012).