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History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: cold war

Nukes Over North Carolina—Were We Lucky?

A road marker in Eureka, NC.

A road marker in Eureka, NC.

On January 24, 1961, two hydrogen bombs crashed to the ground outside Goldsboro, North Carolina. One hit a field at 700 miles per hour and shattered without detonating. The other remained intact after its parachute was snared by the branches of a tree.

The plane carrying the bombs was a U.S. B-52 bomber. After taking off from a nearby air force base, the plane malfunctioned and broke to pieces as it plummeted from the sky. One of the bombs had completed much of its arming sequence, which led to the deployment of its parachute. All of the levers of the ignition device tripped, except for a single one. In 2013, declassified government documents revealed that the single switch prevented the bomb from exploding, averting what would likely have been millions of deaths and the formation of a crater on the eastern seaboard to be swallowed up by the Atlantic.

Our friends at the Armageddon Letters produced this short video to engage viewers in the complex discussion of nuclear weapons. The video uses the almost-unbelievable Goldsboro B-52 crash as an entry point into a debate about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the Cuban missile crisis. Professor Jim Blight asks, were we lucky? Or, considering that the bomb didn’t detonate, are we sufficiently safe in a world with nuclear weapons? The video could serve as a great hook for high school classes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN4VRqEo0r4

The following video of Joseph Cirincione also explores the Goldsboro scare and other nuclear close-calls, including the Cuban missile crisis:Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 4.01.05 PM

Explore more from Choices on these topics:

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Considering its Place in Cold War History

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons

Photo by Arthunter (CC BY-SA 3.0).

 

Breaking the Mold On Cuba

 

cubapolicy6.5This classic cartoon on U.S.-Cuba relations from 2004 pretty neatly illustrates 50 years of a relationship frozen in place. That’s done. A chapter from the Cold War has come to a close, but what comes next? There are many questions that are getting attention in the news right now. These questions also offer opportunities for high school classrooms to explore and follow in the coming months as history unfolds.  Will the embargo continue? How will this affect the 2016 presidential race in the United States? Will there be an economic transition in Cuba? Will it be more like the ones in the Soviet bloc or more like China? What will Cuba’s political future be?

A dimension worth considering is what kind of future the people of Cuba want for themselves. Change is coming, but Cubans have very different opinions about their country and its history—this affects how they think about the future. A curriculum unit from Choices, Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future, helps students step into the shoes of ordinary Cubans and consider what comes next.

This curriculum helps students gain a broader understanding of the country that has often occupied the attention of the world since 1959. Besides offering an overview of Cuban history, the unit focuses on the legacies of Cuba’s relationships with Spain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Although most recognize Cuba’s role in the Cold War, recent research suggests that Cuba often marched to its own drum, and not that of the Soviet Union. The readings trace Cuba’s history from the country’s precolonial past to its  recent economic, social, and political changes. A central activity helps students recreate the discussions Cubans on the island are having about their future.

Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future contains lessons (listed below) and Scholars Online Videos that complement the readings and lessons. The curriculum is also available as an IBook for the  Ipad.
Lessons

José Martí and His Legacy
Using a variety of primary sources as well as a timeline and map, students assess the contested legacy of José Martí among Cubans.

The Dance of the Millions
Students analyze economic data from Cuba’s “dance of the millions” in 1920 and compare Cuban sugar to commodities in Germany that same year.

Operation Carlota
Using a variety of Cuban, U.S., Russian, South African, Angolan, and European sources, students assess competing perspectives of Cuba’s foreign policy in Angola.

The Special Period
Using numerous sources from the 1990s, including literature, hip-hop lyrics, jokes, and art, students explore the relationship between politics and popular culture.

Role-Playing the Three Options
Working collaboratively to present different options to a group of fictional Cuban citizens, students clarify and evaluate various political and economic options.

Cuban Government
Students create their own working definitions of “democracy” and explore a variety of media sources to assess claims that Cuba is a democracy.

Cuban American Experiences
Using excerpts of Cuban American memoirs, students create characters representing a wide array of Cuban American experiences and points of view.

 

IB 20th Century Course: Cold War Historiography

by Melinda Gale, 2012 Choices Teaching Fellow

I’m reading through my student’s policy papers directed at President Truman as IB 20th Century students conclude their study of the Origins of the Cold War. I am again inspired both by the level of detail in their knowledge (given that we spent less than 3 weeks on the topic), and the grace and commitment with which they infuse their own values into these policy directives.  No doubt actually assuming the roles of key players and debating the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. potential policy options has made the subject both more concrete and heightened their awareness that consequences of these decisions are both powerful and germane to the world we live in.

This year, as an extension of this unit, students considered an element from the IB Curriculum: the role of Cold War historiography. While considering various historians’ perspectives, students categorized each perspective as orthodox, revisionist, or post-revisionist. The lesson culminated with students working in groups of 3 to design book jackets on a Cold War topic from each of the three perspectives. Each group had to produce 1 orthodox, 1 revisionist and 1 post-revisionist book jacket on the same topic.

The book jackets themselves had 4 sections:

  1. Cover with image and byline
  2. Event summary (inside front)
  3. About the author (inside back)
  4. Reviews (back).

The assignment also served as a review for Cold War topics as students were assigned to “write their book” about one of the following topics:

WW II, Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam, Kennan’s Long Telegram, The Iron Curtain Speech, the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, Soviet Occupation of Eastern Europe, the Czech Coup, the Berlin Blockade or Leadership Styles of Truman and Stalin.

The level of humor in their texts indicates to me that students are very comfortable with the concepts, and I attribute this level of comfort directly to their well-grounded understanding of the origins of the Cold War.

 

Virtual Exhibits

Teachers from all disciplines should check out the Google Cultural Institute. The institute partners with museums across the world to create virtual exhibits on topics including the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. Each exhibit paints a visually compelling story with the use of primary sources: photographs, posters, pamphlets, documents, etc. Exhibits also include short paragraphs that provide useful (and interesting) information, but the historical artifacts take center stage. The Civil Rights Movement in the Bay Area is one of my favorites. The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project is also fantastic. All in all, the Google Cultural Institute offers a dynamic lens into history. Watch the institute’s video below for further information on how to best navigate the website. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/mpplbJMj-No

 

Thirteen Days: More than One Option

There’s a scene in the movie Thirteen Days when the actor playing Bobby Kennedy shouts, “No! No! No! There’s more than one option here.”

The film isn’t perfect, but it really does capture a sense of the tension and drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Arguably it’s a great way to introduce high school students to this critical moment in history.

The noted historian Ernest R. May agreed: “Thirteen Days is not a substitute for history. No one should see the movie expecting to learn exactly what happened. But the film comes close enough to truth that I will not be unhappy if it is both a big success now and a video store staple for years to come, with youths in America and around the world getting from it their first impressions of what was probably the greatest international crisis in all of human experience.”

I would hope that the drama of the film would raise some key questions. How did it come to that point? And how did we avoid destroying ourselves? How can we avoid nuclear war?

Choices has produced curriculum resources for high school classrooms on The Cuban Missile Crisis that allow them to explore those questions in depth. The resources include printed materials that reflect the best scholarship and culminate in students reviewing primary sources and then recreating the debate in the ExComm about the U.S. response. They’ll see and advocate for the options Bobby Kennedy was shouting for in the movies. The resources also include a series of videos with Sergei Khrushchev, as well as Jim Blight and janet Lang, whose groundbreaking work on the crisis have made important contributions to what we know about how dangerous the crisis really was.

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