The Cold War

Why and How was the Cold War Fought?

Cold War CoverThe Cold War that spanned more than four decades touched nearly every country on earth.  The ideological, diplomatic, military, and cultural struggle that started between the Soviet Union and United States went through a number of phases as people and countries in the post-World War II era struggled to define what freedom would mean for them.  This unit of study contains two strands – one for 10th-grade world history students and one for 11th-grade U.S. history students.  The first path through the Cold War focuses on the origins of the world-wide conflict; the newly emerging nations that had been colonies before World War II, and then after the war had to choose whether to align themselves with the United States or Soviets; the international conflicts that arose as a result of those alliances; and finally the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The second path through the Cold War teaches students about the roots of the conflict; the ways in which the American government imagined and implemented anti-communist policies abroad and at home; the effects of the Cold War on individual Americans; the war as it came to Vietnam; and finally the end of the Cold War. 

This unit also provides detailed instructions to support student analysis of a number of relevant primary sources, including addresses made by Churchill, Stalin, Truman, Gandhi, Castro, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Gorbachev, and dozens of ordinary citizens that experienced the turmoil and daily life of the Cold War.  The unit concludes as it begins with a focus on an engaging and historically significant question: Why and how was the Cold War Fought?

In addition to teaching students about the Cold War, this unit teaches students how to read, write, and think historically, analyze historical evidence from primary and secondary sources, and make interpretations.  Students will practice Common Core reading and writing skills, especially identifying the perspective and point of view of a source, integrating information from visual and written sources, identifying evidence from sources, using that evidence to support an argument or interpretation, and communicating that argument in well-conceived sentence, paragraph, essay, or explanation.

Drawing on new historical scholarship about the global context of the Cold War, students consider, Why and how was the Cold War fought?

  • Unit Introduction for 11th-Grade U.S. History
  • Unit Introduction for 10th-Grade World History
  • Origins of the Cold War  (Early Tensions - The Truman Doctrine; The Marshall Plan & Divided Germany; Yalta & Potsdam; The Iron Curtain and Containment; Why Did We Fight?)
  • Decolonization (Decolonization and Nationalism; Third Way and Non-Alignment; Suez Canal Crisis; Cuban Missile Crisis)
  • Principles vs Practices (Racism in the First World; Prague Spring 1968; China: Chairman Mao's Challenge; Chile 1973)
  • Hot Spots Research Project (Research project in which students will produce a newspaper about a hotspot in the Cold War:  Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Cambodia, Congo, Guatemala, Hungary, Iran, Nicaragua)
  • Containment Abroad (Founding of the United Nations; Creation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact; National Security Act, NSC-68, Iran Coup d'etat; Korean War, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis; Hungarian Revolution, Guatemalan Coup d'etat)
  • Containment at Home (Domestic Containment; HUAC and The Rosenbergs; Civil Defense, Nuclear Power, The Kitchen Debate; Civil Rights and the Integration of the Armed Forces)
  • Vietnam (Origins of the Vietnam War, Tonkin Gulf & Escalation; A War of Attrition, The War's Legacies; The Anti-War Movement; End of the War)
  • End of the Cold War (The End of Detente; Problems with the USSR; Diplomacy and Reform: Gorbachev and Reagan; China's Solution and the Fall of the Soviet Union)
  • Click here for a detailed unit index for US History (Cold War America).
  • Click here for a detailed unit index for World History (Cold War World).

This unit was made possible by the generous support of the Library of Congress, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund and History Channel, in addition to California History-Social Science Project / California Subject Matter Project funding. 


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