Defining us: The American Experience

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Defining US: The American Experience

FCPS Teaching American History Grant

Subject: United States/Virginia History Grade: 11th

Prepared by: Sia Butler Knight School: James Madison High School

Title or Topic: American Foreign Policy Since World War II (The Cold War)

Instructional Time: 90 minutes

  1. Essential Learning: Students will be introduced to some key figures and major events during the Cold War era

Topics Covered:

  • Korean War

  • Vietnam

  • Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Bay of Pigs Invasion

  • United States/China Cold War Relations

  1. Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL):

11.12b – The students will demonstrate knowledge of United States foreign policy since World War II by

b. explaing the origins of the Cold War, and describing the Truman Doctrine and the policy of containment of communism, the American role of wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe.

3. Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS):
United States and Virginia History Standard 12.1 The student analyzes the impact of international affairs on the foreign policy of the United States after World War II.

G. Explain the reasons for, and the results of, the United States’ involvement in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam.

H. Analyze the foreign policy of the United States in dealing with China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War Period.

  1. National History Standard (Historical Thinking Standard)

Standard Five – Historical Analysis and Interpretation

  1. Learning Strategy(s) Objectives:

Students will:

  • Use Selective Attention

  • Use Resources

  • Use Graphic Organizers

  • Cooperate

  1. Connection to TAH grant:

This lesson integrates information learned in the February 25th Seminar given by Dr. Charles Errico on Post-World War II Foreign Policy with the Jigsaw strategy presented by Dr. Dennis Dennenberg.


  1. Assessment:

After the classroom activity, the students will play a short review game (see attached sheet)

  1. Instructional Strategies:

  1. Upon entry, the students will be divided into 5 teacher-assigned groups. Each group will receive an article dealing with one aspect or event of the Cold War.

  2. For the first 15 minutes of the activity, each student should silently read their assigned article. After each member of any given group finishes reading the article, the group will discuss the information and write responses to the questions that accompany each article.

  3. After each group finishes reading and discussing their articles, the next step is to put key information on chart paper that is to be displayed around the room. Before the class begins, the teacher will set up the chart with the titles that the students will fill in for example: Time Period, Presidents Involved, etc. (see Cold War Hand-Out)

  4. When the last group finishes filling out their chart, the groups will present their information. As the groups present, individual students take notes on a teacher-provided handout. As an alternative, chart papers may be posted around the room and students could take a Gallery Tour to discuss and complete information on the handout.

  5. Closure: After all of the groups have presented, the class will play a short review game. Each group will have a small white board and a dry erase marker. The teacher will ask questions based on the presentations and after each question, the groups will have five seconds to put what they believe to be the correct answer on the white board. When the teacher says “boards up”, the groups will reveal their answers. The groups with the correct answer will receive one point. The team with the most points will win a teacher-determined amount of extra credit.

  1. Materials/Resources to be used:

  • Hand-outs

  • Selected readings:

    • “Vietnam War” (

    • “Korean War” (

    • “Bay of Pigs” and “Cuban Missile Crisis” (

    • “Reopening Chinese-United States Relations”

  • Questions that correspond with each article

  • Blank Cold War hand-out

  • Chart paper

  • Chart markers

  • 5 Small white boards

  • 5 Dry-erase markers

  1. Differentiation:

GT- Instead of receiving hand-outs, students would do independent research on their assigned topic

  1. Annotated Bibliography

Cold War Articles: Contains a summary about major Cold War events. All information is available through .

Korean War   
conflict between Communist and non-Communist forces in Korea from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet (North Korean) and U.S. (South Korean) zones of occupation. In 1948 rival governments were established: The Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the South and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea in the North.     Relations between them became increasingly strained, and on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. The United Nations quickly condemned the invasion as an act of aggression, demanded the withdrawal of North Korean troops from the South, and called upon its members to aid South Korea. On June 27, U.S. President Truman authorized the use of American land, sea, and air forces in Korea; a week later, the United Nations placed the forces of 15 other member nations under U.S. command, and Truman appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur supreme commander.

    In the first weeks of the conflict the North Korean forces met little resistance and advanced rapidly. By Sept. 10 they had driven the South Korean army and a small American force to the Pusan area at the southeast tip of Korea. A counteroffensive began on Sept. 15, when UN forces made a daring landing at Inchon on the west coast. North Korean forces fell back and MacArthur received orders to pursue them into North Korea.

    On Oct. 19, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang was captured; by Nov. 24, North Korean forces were driven by the 8th Army, under Gen. Walton Walker, and the X Corp, under Gen. Edward Almond, almost to the Yalu River, which marked the border of Communist China. As MacArthur prepared for a final offensive, the Chinese Communists joined with the North Koreans to launch (Nov. 26) a successful counterattack. The UN troops were forced back, and in Jan., 1951, the Communists again advanced into the South, recapturing Seoul, the South Korean capital.

    After months of heavy fighting, the center of the conflict was returned to the 38th parallel, where it remained for the rest of the war. MacArthur, however, wished to mount another invasion of North Korea. When MacArthur persisted in publicly criticizing U.S. policy, Truman, on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff removed (Apr. 10, 1951) him from command and installed Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway as commander in chief. Gen. James Van Fleet then took command of the 8th Army. Ridgway began (July 10, 1951) truce negotiations with the North Koreans and Chinese, while small unit actions, bitter but indecisive, continued. Gen. Van Fleet was denied permission to go on the offensive and end the “meat grinder” war.

    The war's unpopularity played an important role in the presidential victory of Dwight D. Eisenhower , who had pledged to go to Korea to end the war. Negotiations broke down four different times, but after much difficulty and nuclear threats by Eisenhower, an armistice agreement was signed (July 27, 1953). Casualties in the war were heavy. U.S. losses were placed at over 54,000 dead and 103,000 wounded, while Chinese and Korean casualties were each at least 10 times as high.

(Adapted from

Korean War Questions
1. What happened to Korea at the end of World War II?

2. How did the United Nations respond to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea?

3. Who was appointed Supreme commander of UN forces in Korea?

4. How did Truman respond to MacArthur’s public criticism of U.S. policy?

Vietnam War   

conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat. into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). It escalated from a Vietnamese civil war into a limited international conflict in which the United States was deeply involved, and did not end, despite peace agreements in 1973, until North Vietnam's successful offensive in 1975 resulted in South Vietnam's collapse and the unification of Vietnam by the North.

Section: Causes and Early Years
    In part, the war was a legacy of France's colonial rule, which ended in 1954 with the French army's catastrophic defeat at Dienbienphu and the acceptance of the Geneva Conference agreements (see Vietnam ). Elections scheduled for 1956 in South Vietnam for the reunification of Vietnam were canceled by President Ngo Dinh Diem . His action was denounced by Ho Chi Minh , since the Communists had expected to benefit from them. After 1956, Diem's government faced increasingly serious opposition from the Viet Cong , insurgents aided by North Vietnam. The Viet Cong became masters of the guerrilla tactics of North Vietnam's Vo Nguyen Giap . Diem's army received U.S. advice and aid, but was unable to suppress the guerrillas, who established a political organization, the National Liberation Front (NLF) in 1960.
Section: U.S. Involvement

    In 1961, South Vietnam signed a military and economic aid treaty with the United States leading to the arrival (1961) of U.S. support troops and the formation (1962) of the U.S. Military Assistance Command. Mounting dissatisfaction with the ineffectiveness and corruption of Diem's government culminated (Nov., 1963) in a military coup engineered by Duong Van Minh ; Diem was executed. No one was able to establish control in South Vietnam until June, 1965, when Nguyen Cao Ky became premier, but U.S. military aid to South Vietnam increased, especially after the U.S. Senate passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution (Aug. 7, 1964) at the request of President Lyndon B. Johnson .

    In early 1965, the United States began air raids on North Vietnam and on Communist-controlled areas in the South; by 1966 there were 190,000 U.S. troops in South Vietnam. North Vietnam, meanwhile, was receiving armaments and technical assistance from the Soviet Union and other Communist countries. Despite massive U.S. military aid, heavy bombing, the growing U.S. troop commitment (which reached nearly 550,000 in 1969), and some political stability in South Vietnam after the election (1967) of Nguyen Van Thieu as president, the United States and South Vietnam were unable to defeat the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. Optimistic U.S. military reports were discredited in Feb., 1968, by the costly and devastating Tet offensive of the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong, involving attacks on more than 100 towns and cities and a month-long battle for Hue in South Vietnam.
Section: U.S. Withdrawal
    Serious negotiations to end the war began after U.S. President Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek reelection in 1968. Contacts between North Vietnam and the United States in Paris in 1968 were expanded in 1969 to include South Vietnam and the NLF. The United States, under the leadership of President Richard M. Nixon , altered its tactics to combine U.S. troop withdrawals with intensified bombing and the invasion of Communist sanctuaries in Cambodia (1970).

    The length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes such as the massacre at My Lai (see My Lai incident ) helped to turn many in the United States against the war. Politically, the movement was led by Senators James William Fulbright , Robert F. Kennedy , Eugene J. McCarthy , and George S. McGovern ; there were also huge public demonstrations in Washington, D.C., as well as in many other cities in the United States and on college campuses.

    Even as the war continued, peace talks in Paris progressed, with Henry Kissinger as U.S. negotiator. A break in negotiations followed by U.S. saturation bombing of North Vietnam did not derail the talks, and a peace agreement was reached, signed on Jan. 27, 1973, by the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the NLF's provisional revolutionary government. The accord provided for the end of hostilities, the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops (several Southeast Asia Treaty Organization countries had sent token forces), the return of prisoners of war, and the formation of a four-nation international control commission to ensure peace.
Section: End of the War
    Fighting between South Vietnamese and Communists continued despite the peace agreement until North Vietnam launched an offensive in early 1975. South Vietnam's requests for aid were denied by the U.S. Congress, and after Thieu abandoned the northern half of the country to the advancing Communists, a panic ensued. South Vietnamese resistance collapsed, and North Vietnamese troops marched into Saigon Apr. 30, 1975. Vietnam was formally reunified in July, 1976, and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City . U.S. casualties in Vietnam during the era of direct U.S. involvement (1961-72) were more than 50,000 dead; South Vietnamese dead were estimated at more than 400,000, and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese at over 900,000.

(Adapted from
Vietnam War Questions
1. How did the Geneva Conference divide Vietnam in 1954?

2. What is the name of the insurgent group that was supported by North Vietnam?

3. Which U.S. President requested the Tonkin Gulf Resolution?

4. When was Vietnam formally reunified?

Bay of Pigs Invasion   

1961, an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles, supported by the U.S. government. On Apr. 17, 1961, an armed force of about 1,500 Cuban exiles landed in the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the south coast of Cuba. Trained since May, 1960, in Guatemala by members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with the approval of the Eisenhower administration, and supplied with arms by the U.S. government, the rebels intended to foment an insurrection in Cuba and overthrow the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. The Cuban army easily defeated the rebels and by Apr. 20, most were either killed or captured. The invasion provoked anti-U.S. demonstrations in Latin America and Europe and further embittered U.S.-Cuban relations. Poorly planned and executed, the invasion subjected President Kennedy to severe criticism at home. Cuban exile leader José Miró Cardona, president of the U.S.-based National Revolutionary Council, blamed the failure on the CIA and the refusal of Kennedy to authorize air support for the invasion. In Dec., 1962, Castro released 1,113 captured rebels in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine raised by private donations in the United States.

(Adapted from

Bay of Pigs Questions
1. What was the goal of the Cuban exiles armed by the U.S. government?

2. Who received most of the blame for the failure at the Bay of Pigs?

3. Castro released over 1,100 rebels under what conditions?

Cuban missile crisis   

1962, major cold war confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the Bay of Pigs Invasion , the USSR increased its support of Fidel Castro's Cuban regime, and in the summer of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev secretly decided to install ballistic missiles in Cuba. When U.S. reconnaissance flights revealed the clandestine construction of missile launching sites, President Kennedy publicly denounced (Oct. 22, 1962) the Soviet actions. He imposed a naval blockade on Cuba and declared that any missile launched from Cuba would warrant a full-scale retaliatory attack by the United States against the Soviet Union. On Oct. 24, Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba turned back, and when Khrushchev agreed (Oct. 28) to withdraw the missiles and dismantle the missile sites, the crisis ended as suddenly as it had begun. The United States ended its blockade on Nov. 20, and by the end of the year the missiles and bombers were removed from Cuba.

(Adapted from

Cuban Missile Crisis Questions
1. What nations were involved in this incident?

2. How did President Kennedy respond to Soviet missiles being in Cuba?

3. What was Khrushchev’s response to Kennedy’s actions?

United States/China Relations

A quite separate development in Asia, a civil war between the nationalist and communist Chinese, resulted in a communist victory in 1949. This brought to power a government which effectively unified China and restored it to a position of complete independence after a century of European colonial domination.

    Because the United States had, by 1949, defined all Communist governments as the enemy, the relations between China and the U.S. quickly deteriorated. The United States intervened in the Chinese civil war by interposing a U.S. fleet in the Taiwan straits, thus protecting the Nationalist Chinese, who had fled to the island, from invasion by the mainland Chinese.

    At the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel between United States military forces in the south and Soviet forces in the north. Both powers supported client states in their respective areas, and both of these client states sought to unite Korea under their auspices. This led to the outbreak of war in June, 1950. Because the United States had not given extensive military aid to South Korea, and the Soviets had done so in the north, North Korea had the advantage and invaded the south.

The United States intervened with it own forces and reversed the tide of war. The approach of U.S. military forces to the Yalu River border with China provoked Chinese involvement. The war dragged on between the United States and China for three years. President Truman limited the war to the Korean peninsula, where immense destruction took place. The fighting ended with a cease fire in place, but no permanent peace treaty. The effect of the war was to create a heavily fortified border zone still closely guarded by both sides through the end of the twentieth century. The war greatly intensified the tension in the Cold War, accelerated the arms race, and led to a change in U.S. policy towards Vietnam.

Hostility had continued meanwhile between Communist China and the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, who pledged himself to the reconquest of the mainland. The Communist government insisted upon its right to Taiwan, but the United States made clear its intention to defend that island against direct attack, having even given (1955) a qualified promise to defend the Nationalist-held offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu as well. China's relations with other Asian nations, at first cordial, were affected by China's encouragement of Communist activity within their borders, the suppression of a revolt in Tibet (1959–60), and undeclared border wars with India in the 1960s over disputed territory. In the Vietnam War, China provided supplies, armaments, and technical assistance as well as militant verbal support to North Vietnam.

In 1971 long-standing objections to the admission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations were set aside by the United States; that October, Communist delegates were seated as the representatives of all China and, despite the opposition of the United States, which favored a "two-China" membership, the Nationalist delegation was expelled. A breakthrough in the hostile relations between the United States and Communist China came with the visit of President Richard M. Nixon to Beijing in Feb., 1972. Although U.S. support of Taiwan remained a sensitive issue, the visit resulted in a joint agreement to work toward peace in Asia and to develop closer economic, cultural, and diplomatic ties.

(Adapted from

(Adapted from

Reopening Chinese – United States Relations Questions
1. How did Communist China and the United States differ over the question of Taiwan during the period 1949 – 1972?

2. In what other ways did the 1972 agreement change the relationship between Communist China and the United States?

3. How did the 1972 agreement pave the way for the large amount of trade between China and the United States today?

Korean War

Time Period:

U.S. President Involved:

Other Important World Leaders:

Summary of Event:

Vietnam War

Time Period:

U.S. President Involved:

Other Important World Leaders:

Summary of Event:

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Time Period:

U.S. President Involved:

Other Important World Leaders:

Summary of Event:

Cuban Missile Crisis

Time Period:

U.S. President Involved:

Other Important World Leaders:

Summary of Event:

Reopening of U.S.- China Relations

Time Period:

U.S. President Involved:

Other Important World Leaders:

Summary of Event:

Suggested Questions for Review Game
1. Which one of the countries that we discussed today started as a French colony?
2. Who was the Communist leader of Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion?
3. What year did the Cuban Missile Crisis take place?
4. True or False: In 1945 the Chinese Communists fled to Taiwan to set up a government in exile.
5. Who was the President that negotiated an end to the Korean War?

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