11th Grade Kentucky

Cold War

This inquiry leads students through an investigation of the causes of the Cold War by examining events through the perspective of both the Soviet Union and the United States. By investigating the compelling question “Who’s to blame for the Cold War?” students evaluate these events in consideration of the historiography, using the work of several preeminent Cold War historians, and the consequences of assigning blame to either country. The formative performance tasks build on knowledge and skills through the course of the inquiry and help students recognize different perspectives in order to better understand the ways in which mutual concerns and fears culminated in global tensions. Students create an evidence-based argument about whether anyone should be assigned blame in starting the Cold War after considering the tensions that emerged during and after World War II, perception of the actions taken by the United States and Soviet Union, assessing historiographical viewpoints, and considering how assigning blame affects perceptions of the actions of others.


Compelling Question:

Who’s to Blame for the Cold War?

Staging the Question:

Read The Atlantic article “Can containment work against modern Russia?” and discuss how modern-day tensions between Russia and America are in many ways a continuation of Cold War aggressions by both sides.

Supporting Question What tensions were visible during and immediately after WWII?

Formative Task List and describe the ways in which tensions emerged during and after the war.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from Specter of Communism, 1994
Source B: Excerpt from The Global Cold War, 2005
Source C: Excerpt from Origins of Containment, 1985


Supporting Question How did these tensions turn into actions by the U.S. and Soviet Union?

Formative Task Create a T-chart identifying aggressive actions by the Soviet Union and the United States in the post-war era.

Sources Source A: “Postwar Politics and the Cold War: Timeline and Terms”
Source B: Letter from Truman to Secretary of State James Byrnes
Source C: Excerpt from At Stalin’s Side, 1994


Supporting Question What arguments do historians make about who started the Cold War?

Formative Task Write one-sentence summaries of each historian’s argument on who started the Cold War. Select two pieces of evidence that support each claim.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from America Faces Russia, 1950.
Source B: Excerpt from The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947, 1972.
Source C: Excerpt from From Colony to Superpower, 2008.


Supporting Question Does it matter who is to blame for the Cold War?

Formative Task Develop a claim supported by evidence that explains the extent to which assigning blame is problematic.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from “The Blame Game,” 2010

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Who’s to blame for the Cold War? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Conduct a mock trial where students put the United States and/or the Soviet Union on trial for starting the Cold War and decide whether there should be a consequence if either party is deemed “guilty.”

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Research the current state of the relationship between Russia and the United States, including their respective influence on world affairs.
Assess: Assess the concerns expressed by both powers in terms of their economic and geopolitical role.
Act: diplomatic relations between the US and Russia.