The criteria for selecting sources to support the unit were as follows: First they had to be accessible to high school students both in terms of readability and holding student interest. Advanced level eleventh and twelfth graders should be able to handle all of the sources I will discuss, although Alperovitz’s
The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb
will definitely pose a challenge to many. Teachers can opt to selectively assign specific portions of the sources, depending on time constraints and the prevailing skill levels of the class. The second criterion for selection was that each source supported my unit objectives. Specifically, I tried to choose sources that would help students to answer the guiding questions for the unit presented in section one.
The Decision to Use Atomic Weapons Against Japan
For this case I have selected three sources:
The Atomic Bomb: A Historical Reader, NextText Series (Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2000)
The Decision To Use The Atomic Bomb
(New York: Vintage Books, 1995)
Revised and updated edition.
Barton J. Bernstein, “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered,”
, Vol. 41, No. 1 (1995)
The Atomic Bomb: A Historical Reader
is a compilation of twenty five source documents and numerous photographs that offer various perspectives on the United States’ development and use of the atomic bomb. It is well organized into five distinct topical sections:
Part I: Development of the Bomb
Part II: The Decision to Use the Bomb
Part III: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Part IV: The Historical Debate
Part V: The Response to the Bomb (poetry & essays)
Part II on the decision to use the bomb is particularly useful because it presents two primary source readings written in the summer of 1945. Harry Truman’s
Diary at Potsdam, July 25, 1945
reflects upon war developments that include the prospect of using the atomic bomb against Japan. The diary entry illustrates Truman’s thoughts about ending the Pacific War quickly with a minimum loss of American lives as well as his concerns about the Soviet Union and forging a postwar order that was conducive to American strategic interests. This section also includes an post-facto article by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson in which he explains the various reasons behind his recommendation to Truman to use the bomb. The aforementioned readings should prove useful for students to begin assessing some of the units guiding questions such as how did American policy-makers define our vital strategic interests at that time? To what extent did the policy decisions reached in each case effectively support America’s broader strategic interests during the period in question?
The Decision To Drop The Atomic Bomb
by Gar Alperovitz illuminates the historical viewpoint that the United States could have ended the Pacific War in 1945 without dropping the bomb and without the need to invade the Japanese main islands at a claimed cost of 500,000 American casualties. Alperovitz presents extensive research in formulating his thesis that Truman and his confidants misrepresented what they knew about Japan’s willingness to continue the war in 1945 in order to use the bomb as bargaining chip against the Soviet Union in the immediate postwar period. Alperovitz cites a wealth of primary data to support the conclusions of revisionist historians “that clear alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it.”11
The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered
synthesizes the issues and outstanding questions surrounding the decision to use the bomb in a relatively short and balanced article that presents many of the central questions that students should consider when formulating opinions about this case: Would the bomb have been used on Germany? Why were cities targeted so that large numbers of civilians would be killed? Were there alternative ways to end the war speedily and to avoid a scheduled invasion of Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu scheduled for November 1945?12
The teacher can supplement the readings for this case with good videos. The first is a Japanese film entitled
The film is essentially a docu-drama that weaves historical film footage of the effects of the bomb with a dramatic portrayal of the lives of an ordinary Japanese family from Hiroshima. The film is in Japanese with English sub-titles. The second video resource is an ABC News production entitled
Hiroshima-Why the Bomb Was Dropped
. Hosted by Peter Jennings, it presents a straightforward examination of American calculations in the decision to use the Atomic Bomb.
The Decision to Escalate American Military Involvement in Vietnam
This case will rely primarily upon two sources for students:
The Vietnam War: A Historical Reader, NextText Series (Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2000)
David Bender & William Dudley, editors,
The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints
(San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1990)
Both sources are edited compilations of reading materials.
A Historical Reader
follows the same format as its series companion on the atomic bomb.
Part I: A War Ends, A War Begins
Part II: U.S. Soldiers At War
Part III. The Vietnamese At War
Part IV: Dissent At Home
Part V: The Tet Offensive and American Withdrawal
Part VI: The End of the War
Part I is useful for setting the context for American involvement. The first article,
Settlement at Geneva
, is an account by journalist Bernard Fall of the Geneva Conference that ended French colonial rule and divided Vietnam into two separate states. Students should also read the second piece by renowned journalist and scholar of the Vietnam War, Stanley Karnow. In
Diem Defeats His Own Best Troops
, Karnow describes how the corrupt dictatorship of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem had little if any support among the populace. Karnow points out that the United States realized that if the country were unified through fair elections, Diem would surely lose power to Ho Chi Minh. The United States only supported Diem because it feared the communist alternative.
The reading that follow Karnow, presents the 1962 report by Homer Bigart of the New York Times on the role and activities of U.S. military advisors to the South Vietnamese government. The article provides students with a picture of how American involvement began with training the South Vietnamese army in counter-insurgency tactics and gradually escalated into American forces conducting ground missions such as reconnaissance, troop transport and eventually full-scale combat by 1964. These readings should provide students with a sense of the United States starting down the proverbial ‘slippery slope’ as American foreign policy decision-makers struggle with the questions of defining U.S. vital interests in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints
frames the unit’s guiding questions by presenting articles on opposite sides of the issues surrounding the Vietnam War. Each chapter consists of articles that address a central question for consideration.
Chapter 1: Why Did the U.S. Become Involved in Vietnam?
Chapter 2: Why Did U.S. Policy Fail in Vietnam?
Chapter 3: What Are the Legacies of Vietnam?
Chapter 4: How Has the Vietnam War Affected Veterans?
Chapter 5: What Should U.S. Policy Toward Indochina Be Now?
A Chronology of U.S. Involvement in Vietnam
Among the article sets I propose to have students read are:
The U.S. Must Maintain its Commitments (1965) in which Senator Thomas J. Dodd argues that America must maintain its long-standing policy of aiding people who are trying to defend their liberty.
The U.S. Has No Binding Commitments
(1965) in which Don R. Larson, Director of the United States Information Agency contends that the U.S. is not bound by any obligations to, and should not, defend South Vietnam.
Underestimating the Enemy Caused Defeat. In this article John Mueller of the University of Rochester contends that U.S. policy in Vietnam was well conceived but that American policy-makers simply underestimated the military skill and political determination of the North Vietnamese.
Poorly Planned Strategy Caused Defeat
. Norman Hannah, a former foreign service officer serving in Southeast Asia, argues that U.S. leaders were unable to decide how to conduct the war. This led to ineffective strategies in the field and to our ultimate defeat.
Each article presented in this volume begins with a set of questions to guide students reading. These questions could be used to structure class discussion or they could be assigned as written work.
Video resources for the Vietnam War are wide and varied. I would suggest the ten-part PBS video entitled Vietnam:
A Television History
. Teachers can use any section that suits their needs and the students will see excellent first-hand television news video shot by cameramen from all the major U.S. networks that covered the war.
American Involvement in Somalia
Any examination of the decision to commit American forces to protect humanitarian relief efforts in Somalia must begin by describing the conditions that existed in this African nation in the early 1990s. Scott Peterson’s
Me Against My Brother
provides a vivid first-hand account of the conditions that precipitated Somalia’s slide into anarchy and bloodshed. As an African correspondent for London’s
, Peterson reported on the politics and culture of Somalia both before and after the arrival of American forces. Peterson’s analysis of the complex history and culture of the Somali people provides clues as to why this nation became a failed state. He also presents a chilling picture of the violence; famine, and human suffering that ultimately convinced many Americans that our nation had a moral obligation to help the people of Somalia.
Peterson is also careful to fully explain the close working relationship between the United States and the United Nations in Somalia. The humanitarian mission was fully approved by the United Nations and American military involvement was simply intended to compliment this humanitarian mission by providing physical protection for U.N. and other international aid workers. Perhaps the most useful part of Peterson’s analysis comes in chapters four and five as he describes how the United Nations and the United States were both sucked into the Somali civil war against the clan of the warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid. These chapters would be helpful for a class discussion of how U.S. forces became embroiled in clan based civil unrest. American forces were authorized to use military power in order to protect food shipments and aid workers. American forces were not however initially supposed to take sides in Somalia civil war. Teachers might want to ask students if they have opinions regarding any possible mistakes that the United Nations and American commanders made in Somalia. What might they have done differently?
Students can use Peterson’s account of the conditions in Somalia to begin forming judgments as to whether events there had any connection to vital American interests. The students can also use Peterson to consider how American foreign policy-decision-makers were influenced by public opinion as the images of starving Somali children were broadcast into American homes on a nightly basis. Footage from the excellent PBS Frontline video
Ambush in Mogadishu
can supplement the reading in order to provide students with a sense of the suffering that the American public witnessed throughout 1992.
Mark Bowden in
Black Hawk Down
provides a further explication of the difficulty in determining American strategic interests in Somalia. The majority of this book is devoted to telling the stories of American soldiers who participated in the deadly firefight in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Bowden however does provide a good post-mortem of the Somalia action in the final two sections of the book: Epilogue and Afterword. Bowden’s account of the politics behind the American decision to withdraw from Somalia after the October 3rd debacle is instructive. Students can use this account to judge how the domestic outrage over American casualties drove Somalia policy. Did the high-profile death of eighteen elite U.S. soldiers warrant a complete cessation of American support for the international relief effort?