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U.S. Navy Museum Cold War Gallery Lesson Plan
The Nuclear Umbrella: Still Here After the Cold War
Developed by John Clark, Physics Teacher and Military Historian, Deltona High School, Deltona, FL
2012 Naval Historical Foundation STEM-H Teacher Fellowship

  Instructional Goal

The Cold War period is required study under the educational standards of many states. This lesson offers an original way to cover that period in American history and potentially raise student achievement through its uniqueness.


The Cold War is officially over but the threat from the evolution of nuclear weapons that created that war remains and is growing. Students need to understand that an attack on the United States by a nuclear weapon is still a very real possibility. Make the Cold War come alive for your students by using the resources and web site of the Cold War Gallery at the Naval Museum in Washington, D.C. to educate today's students about the realities of living under a nuclear umbrella. Focusing on the role of the Navy during this long and tense 45 year period is a great way to build student interest in learning about an important chapter in recent American history. Students will gain a perspective of how living under the nuclear umbrella has evolved to present day. Our future citizens need to internalize the continuing dangers and the threat to American life evolving from the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe. If you cannot come to the museum you can use its resources by taking your students on a virtual tour of the gallery. Keep them engaged as they complete the scavenger hunt activity while taking their on-line tour.

Cold WarThe Cold War was a sustained state of political and military tension between the powers of the Western world, led by the United States and its NATO allies, and the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, its satellite states and allies. This began after the success of their temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences. The Soviet Union created the Eastern Bloc with the eastern European countries it occupied, maintaining these as satellite states. The post-war recovery of Western Europe was facilitated by the United States' Marshall Plan, while the Soviet Union, wary of the conditions attached, declined and set up COMECON with its Eastern allies. The United States forged NATO, a military alliance using containment of communism as a main strategy through the Truman Doctrine, in 1949, while the Soviet bloc formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Some countries aligned with either of the two powers, whilst others chose to remain neutral with the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Cold War was so named as it never featured direct military action, since both sides possessed nuclear weapons, and because their use would probably guarantee their mutual assured destruction. Cycles of relative calm would be followed by high tension which could have led to war. The most tense involved the Berlin Blockade (1948-1949), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), and the "Able Archer" NATO military exercises (1983). The conflict was instead expressed through military coalitions, strategic conventional force deployments, extensive aid to client states, espionage, massive propaganda campaigns, conventional and nuclear arms races, appeals to neutral nations, rivalry at sports events, and technological competitions such as the Space Race. The US and USSR fought proxy wars of various types: in Latin America and Southeast Asia, the USSR assisted and helped foster communist revolutions, opposed by several Western countries and their regional allies; some the U.S. attempted to roll back through subversion and warfare, with mixed results. To alleviate the risk of a potential nuclear war, both sides sought detente in the 1970s to relieve political tensions.

In the 1980s, the United States increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when the communist nation was already suffering from economic stagnation. In the late 1980s, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the liberalizing reforms of perestroika ("reconstruction", "reorganization", 1987) and glasnost ("openness", ca. 1985). This opened the country and its satellite states to a mostly peaceful wave of revolutions which culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, leaving the United States as the dominant military power. The Cold War and its events have left a significant legacy, and it is often referred to in popular culture, especially in media featuring themes of espionage and the threat of nuclear warfare.

Teacher Help
Download Teacher Help Guide in PDF format by clicking icon
Download Lesson Plan Resource Kit by clicking icon

play videoThe U.S. Navy and the Cold War:  This film gives an overview of the U.S. Navy's role in our nation's nearly 50-year conflict with the Soviet Union.

Extended Cold War Summary:  The U.S. Navy in the Cold War Era, 1945-1991.

Additional links and resources for teacher and students

Background on the Navy's role in the Cold War:  www.usnavymuseum.org/About_ColdWar.asp.

Background on the Cold War Gallery:  www.usnavymuseum.org/About_Gallery.asp.

Cold War Gallery You-Tube Channel:  www.youtube.com/user/coldwargallery/.

Overview - The US Navy in the Cold War Era:  www.history.navy.mil/wars/coldwar-1.htm.

Background on the Navy's role in the Cold War:  www.navsource.org.

Cold War Time line

Click icon to download Activity in PDF format
Cold War Gallery Scavenger Hunt


Students will learn about key events that occurred during the Cold War and develop a timeline of event based on the Navy's involvement. Students will also learn how advances in technology contributed to American victory and impacted our everyday lives as new military technology was converted into civilian products and services.


Student scavenger hunt hand out: Click Here

Access to Cold War Gallery website: www.usnavymuseum.org/CentralHall.asp


Students can complete the scavenger hunt in several ways depending on the teacher's needs. The scavenger hunt can be completed as an online homework assignment followed by class discussion, the online assignment can be done during class time in small groups sharing a computer, or the class can take the tour as a whole on a single computer hooked to an LED projector and address the questions as your progress through the gallery.



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