Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts What World War I Can Teach Us About the War on Terrorism

What World War I Can Teach Us About the War on Terrorism

Common Core Standards for History and National Social Studies Standards

Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

NSS-C.9-12.2 #3 and #4 Foundations of the Political System

NSS-C.9-12.1 #2 and #3 Civic Life – Politics and Government

Students will be able to understand and identify how the inability to create a lasting peace after World War I correlates to American politics and our efforts to end the modern war on terrorism.

Students will be able to explain the idea of a nation’s “goal of war.”

Students will be able to evaluate and critique the nation’s thinking on how to achieve its war goal.

Students will be able to analyze U.S. actions to fight terrorism and assess the probability of ending the war on terrorism.

Students will be able to evaluate the success of America’s attempt to create a foreign policy to deal with terrorism.

A)Essential Question: Can we explain America’s goal in its war on terrorism?

Step One –The essential question will be on the whiteboard in the front of the room and as class begins the students will be asked to write their thoughts about this question in their journals. The teacher will prompt the class to think about our role in World War I as well as defining the term “war” and suggest possible questions such as: “What causes war?” and “Are there compromise positions in the effort to end war?”

Step Two – The students then will be given 2-3 minutes to turn to the student on their right and compare what each has written.

Step Three – A class discussion will then follow where we will list the ideas that the students arrived at on the board. The teacher will focus/guide the discussion towards connection of U.S. foreign policy during World War I and the reality that all wars (and consequently the peace) must have a political solution. (15 minutes)

Step Four – The teacher will then introduce the following questions:
1)What was the goal of World War I? What is the goal in the war on terrorism?
2)What was the sacrifice needed to win World War I? What is the current sacrifice in the war on terrorism?
3)Why did peace fail after World War I?

Step Five – The students will then be asked, “Can peace be achieved in the war on terrorism? Teacher will allow 7 minutes for Q and A on this question again listing responses on the whiteboard.

Step Six – The students will be divided into six groups and given a critical thinking question. Each group will be given 10 minutes to construct a reply to their question.
Group One: Question A- World War I dragged on because of a lack of a political solution. Can the same be said for our war on terrorism? Explain your thoughts.
Group Two: Question B- There were foreign policy failures that contributed to World War I. What foreign policy concerns exist today that impact our war on terrorism?
Group three: Question C- Negotiations stalled in the efforts to end World War I. Are negotiations possible in the war of terrorism? Why or why not?
Group four: Question D- Great personal sacrifice and human cost fueled the need to fight in World War I. Does this same sacrifice exist in the war on terrorism?
Group five: Question E- Much of World War I was fought in conditions of a stalemate and this lack of success undermined any positive thinking about fighting in World War I. Does a perception of a “lack of success” hinder America’s fight in the war on terrorism?
Group six: Question F- The treaty of Versailles failed because it could not be enforced. Is it possible to enforce any peace that is achieved in the war on terrorism?

Step Seven – The groups will report out their thoughts on their question. The students will be challenged to think about their understanding of why and how World War I was fought. Can these thoughts be connected to our modern war on terrorism?

Step Eight – The teacher ties up the lesson for that class period by asking the students to write in their journals: The lessons of fighting World War I and trying to achieve a lasting peace can be applied to America’s war on terrorism because….

This lesson could be extended and taught as two lessons by focusing the first lesson on foreign policy during World War I and then using the second day to assess current foreign policy in the
war on terrorism.

If the class is very large (30+) then the class could be divided into 12 groups (Groups one and two would answer Question A, Groups three and Four would answer Question B, etc…)

In a small class (less than 15) it is workable to create fewer groups and have each group answer two questions.

I use journal writing, but essay writing or short answer questions could be used both as formative and summative assessments.

If I had more time to address this topic I would teach it by connecting the foreign policy of World War I to World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. I would then incorporate how the failures of the post-World War I have impacted the way we work to achieve modern peace accords. I would also have the students create a presentation on how to deal with the current war on terrorism within modern American foreign policy.

Diplomacy and the Quest for Post-War Peace. Mr. Ronald Granieri – Conference “America’s Entry into World War I.” This presentation is essential to teach this lesson and can be viewed on the FPRI website.

International Law and Terrorism by Major General (retired) Charles Dunlap, Jr.

  • Mark Ladd
  • Richmond High School
Related History Institute
Grade Level
  • High School: 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • One 55-minute class period

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at [email protected]