VI. Teaching About the Cold War
The documents in this packet can be used to supplement existing lesson plans, or they can form the basis of a new teaching unit on the Cold War and Red Scare. The unit could range from a two-day project to a week-long major assignment to a two-week series of projects. The suggestions presented below are just that—suggestions.
1) Before beginning with the documents, display a map of Washington and ask students to think of a few places created or shaped by the Cold War. You could point out that buildings with bomb shelters and the Space Needle were created by the Cold War, too. These places are physical legacies of the Cold War. Ask students if any of their relatives were affected by the Cold War. Did (or do) any of their relatives work for Boeing or at Hanford? Did any of their relatives serve in the military during the Korean or Vietnam wars? These questions can help students begin thinking about how the Cold War affected Washington and its residents.
2) Have students interview a parent or grandparent about the Cold War. (Student whose families only recently came to the US may have especially interesting stories to tell.) Suggest possible questions for students to ask: Did you know anyone who fought in the Korean or Vietnam wars? What did your parents and teachers tell you about nuclear war? What were you taught about communism and the Soviet Union? These interviews should help students understand the level of fear that existed during the Cold War, showing them why some people might have supported Canwell and McCarthy. Students could write a summary of the interview or report orally to the class.
3) Role play the Canwell hearings. Break students into groups—investigators, former communists bitter about their experiences in the Party, current communists scared of losing their jobs, people falsely accused of being communists, professional anti-communist witnesses, and anti-Canwell demonstrators in the audience. Have each group discuss its strategy. The investigators should prepare their interrogation, the groups of witnesses should compose statements they wish to make during their testimony, and the demonstrators should make signs. You can play the role of Canwell—bang a gavel, call and dismiss witnesses, and keep unruly demonstrators in line.
4) Assign Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible. Have students compare the witch trials to the Canwell Committee. How is Miller's "witch hunt" metaphor for the Red Scare accurate and how is it inaccurate?
5) Start a discussion with the question, "Why do people persecute people who seem different?" Ask students why communists were singled out as "un-American." Can students think of other historical examples of groups that were persecuted because they were seen as "dangerous"? (You may have to remind them about the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.) Are there instances where people are singled out and persecuted today? (You could talk about outsiders in the high school/junior high school "clique" system, people who wear "gang colors," people with HIV, or a host of other groups.) How does the US Constitution try to protect the rights of such "minority" groups?
6) Ask students to write an imaginary letter to UW Regent Dave Beck about the tenure hearings. The letter should argue for a specific course of action: Should the University fire all six professors? Should it keep them all? Should it follow the recommendation of the Tenure Committee and just dismiss Gundlach? This could help students understand the logic of the anti-communists and the civil libertarians.
7) Hold a debate. Ask students to pretend they are legislators deciding whether or not to continue the Canwell Committee in 1949.
8) Develop the international context of the Cold War by asking students to research an important international event during this period—the declaration of the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin Airlift, the start of the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. Then have them write a television-style news report and present it to the class. For a more elaborate research assignment, ask students to find out what Washingtonians thought about this event; they could gather this information by interviewing their relatives or reading old local newspapers.
9) Hold another debate—this one on Initiative 172, the 1948 health care plan for the poor. You could run an open-ended debate or assign roles to the students—communists who see this as a first step to guaranteeing everyone a minimum income, elderly citizens who are just concerned about how they can make ends meet, anti-communists who see the measure as a plot to bankrupt the state, and fiscal conservatives who think the plan is simply too expensive. Remind students that the fate of welfare programs is still a hot political topic today.
10) Bring in the small scale census maps of the neighborhood around your school from 1950, 1960, and 1970. Examine how the neighborhood grew and changed in those years.
11) Conclude with a class discussion of how the Cold War affected Washington state. What happened to people persecuted by Canwell and his allies? How did Washington's economy change in this period?
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