Cold War Instructor Resources

Teaching Materials for Cold War: An International History, 2nd Edition

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Discussion Questions

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Chapter 1: Prelude: Soviet Russia and the West, 1917–1941

  1. Some scholars believe that the Cold War began only in 1945, or in 1947 or 1948. What is the justification for beginning this study in 1917?
  2. How would you characterize US policies toward Europe in the 1920s and 1930s?
  3. What considerations lay behind Great Britain’s appeasement policies in the 1930s and how were these displayed at the Munich Conference in 1938?
  4. What were Hitler and Stalin’s goals in concluding the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939?
  5. Why was the fall of France in June 1940 considered a world-historical event?

Chapter 2: The Grand Alliance, 1941–1945

  1. What is the historical importance of the Atlantic Charter?
  2. Using specific examples, discuss the tensions between the US and Britain over the conduct of World War II.
  3. Why was the “Polish problem” a major point of contention within the Grand Alliance, and why was Stalin able to prevail?
  4. Evaluate Roosevelt’s diplomacy at Tehran and Yalta.
  5. How did the change in US leadership after Roosevelt’s death influence the last days of World War II in Europe and Asia?

Chapter 3: Cold War, 1945–1952

  1. Why is the Marshall Plan considered a main element in the post–World War II division of Europe?
  2. What were the arguments in the US for and against the formation of NATO, America’s first peacetime alliance?
  3. How did Stalin turn the division of Germany in 1949—which he had fiercely opposed—into a personal and Soviet gain?
  4. Discuss and compare US and Soviet responses to the communists’ victory in China in 1949.
  5. What was the balance sheet of the Korean War for each of the participants?

Chapter 4: The Widening Conflict, 1953–1963

  1. In what ways did Khrushchev renounce Stalinism in 1956 and in what ways did he continue Stalin’s policies? Is there an explanation for his inconsistency?
  2. How are the origins of a united Europe linked to the history of the Cold War?
  3. Why was Eisenhower unable to forge a disarmament agreement with the USSR during his two presidential terms?
  4. Explain John F. Kennedy’s statement, “A wall is better than a war.”
  5. Why do scholars cite the outcome of the Cuban missile crisis as demonstrating successful crisis management by both sides?

Chapter 5: The Sixties

  1. How did the global economic slowdown of the 1960s influence international politics?
  2. What factors caused the Sino-Soviet split and what were the repercussions?
  3. Why did the US escalate the war in Vietnam?
  4. Why did the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and the crushing of the Prague Spring result in a questionable victory for the Soviet Union?
  5. How did the former colonial world express its goals in the United Nations?

Chapter 6: Détente, 1969–1975

  1. Why were Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev ideal partners in the quest for détente?
  2. What were the aims of West Germany’s Ostpolitik?
  3. Why did China pursue a rapprochement with the United States and what did it gain?
  4. How did the October 1973 war in the Middle East demonstrate the limits of Superpower control over their clients?
  5. Why did many Americans oppose détente and the Helsinki Accords?

Chapter 7: Détente Collapses, 1975–1980

  1. Evaluate the goals and effectiveness of Jimmy Carter’s human rights policies toward the Soviet Union and America’s allies.
  2. How did the demise of détente affect the quest for nuclear disarmament?
  3. What was the historic significance of the Camp David accords for the Middle East region and the world?
  4. Why was the Iranian revolution a setback to both Superpowers (but a greater one for the US)?
  5. The Brezhnev doctrine was applied in Afghanistan but not in Poland. Why?

Chapter 8: The Second Cold War, 1981–1985

  1. How did Ronald Reagan’s views of the Soviet Union differ markedly from those of his predecessors?
  2. Why were the Soviet rulers alarmed by Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative?
  3. In what ways did America’s European allies respond negatively to Reagan’s anti-Soviet crusade?
  4. How did Southern Africa become the site of a US-Soviet proxy contest and what were the results?
  5. In what ways was the outbreak of jihadist violence in the Middle East a warning ignored by both Superpowers?

Chapter 9: The End of the Cold War, 1985–1991

There is as yet no consensus over why the Soviet Union collapsed, and several factors have been put forward. Rank the most important and briefly give the reasons for your ranking:

  • Individual actors (Reagan/Gorbachev)
  • The USSR’s economic weakness
  • The demise of Marxist ideology
  • The dissident movements in Eastern Europe and the international human rights campaign
  • Other actors: West Germany’s Ostpolitik; the China factor

Chapter 10: Aftermath: A New World Disorder

  1. Why did the Clinton administration fail to establish a new world order in the 1990s?
  2. What international and external elements of the civil wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s resurfaced in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine?
  3. How was the War on Terror launched by the George W. Bush administration both similar to and different from the Cold War?
  4. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent in East Germany, has repeatedly lamented the surrender of the Soviet Empire. To what extent does he represent a continuation of Stalinist policies and to what extent is his a new version of older Russian nationalism?
  5. Although the European Union, with 510 million inhabitants and 1.7 million square miles of land, is the world’s largest trading bloc, why has it failed to establish a strong voice in international affairs?

General Questions

  1. How was the Cold War similar to and different from other prolonged Great Power conflicts?
  2. To what extent did nuclear weapons play a positive role in the Cold War, restraining the Superpowers at crucial moments?
  3. Discuss two or three unexpected developments that changed the history of the Cold War.
  4. Although the Cold War began and ended in Europe, why was its impact most damaging in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East?
  5. Which Cold War words, images, and symbols continue to reverberate in the twenty-first century and which have been forgotten?

Suggestions for Further Study

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Download all Maps (.zip, 20MB; please note: this is a large file)

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