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WWII: What was the big deal?

Discussion in 'WWII' started by Corto, Feb 6, 2008.

  1. Corto

    Corto A-List Customer

    Hello All.

    Sorry about that provocative title, but I'm looking for some ideas.
    I'm currently a student-teacher at an urban Midwestern high school, and I'm about to start teaching a unit on WWII.

    I've already got my unit plan mapped out, but I was curious as to your opinions (as WWII experts) regarding the most important things American teenagers should know about WWII beyond what they see in Saving Private Ryan and the Call of Duty video game franchise.

    So, in your opinion, what were the most pivotal moments? The most under-appreciated moments? The most pivotal technologies, innovations and advancements? Unfortunate ramifications?

    I'm want to get beyond their textbook if possible (because there aren't enough for all the students to take home anyways). I've already got my own answers to these questions, but I'm curious to see what you all think.

  2. Smithy

    Smithy I'll Lock Up

    Here's some pivotal things to teach them which it seems a lot of Americans aren't terribly knowledgeable about:

    The Battle of Britain
    El Alamein
    The Eastern Front and the German defeat there.

    Also please teach them the war began in 1939, we had an American flatmate back home who honestly and joking aside thought the war began properly in 1941.
  3. I think the most important thing is to get them to think critically and thus bring up things that runs contrary to the "general" American perception of the war.

    -The war began in 1939 and was fought for two years before America entered in 1941. In fact, in East Asia, the fighting there began before 1939.

    -The war was won on the Eastern Front by our ally, Soviet Russia. Stalingrad is just as important (perhaps more so) than D-Day.

    -We didn't liberate Europe from the Nazis. We liberated half of Europe, and then gave the other half to the communists for them to oppress for the next 45 years.
  4. Corto

    Corto A-List Customer

    Honestly, I wish I could show them the whole film "Battle of Britain". I think the sacrifices and the cohesion of the British people (not to mention the danger)) during that period are beyond the comprehension of my consumer oriented, individualistic charges.

    While teaching them about the Great Depression last week I dropped in little segues about Hitler's rise to power, the reacquisition of the Rhineland and the Sudentenland, Chamberlain and Churchill's disagreement over appeasement, the Mukden inicident, the Spanish Civil War and the Italo-Abyssinyan campaign...(as well as America's military deployments in Nicaragua and China)...
  5. Mike K.

    Mike K. One Too Many

    "The War" by Ken Burns

    I'd suggest having them watch segments of the Ken Burns series from PBS, "The War." While a general knowledge of pivotal battles is good for a well-rounded education, I believe an even stronger learning experience can be found in understanding how WWII shaped the future of the United States & the world, and how it affected individuals. Students all view wars as broadly destructive, but seldom consider the constructive aspects or the personal aspects. If I recall (and I'll try to check my copy of The War) the early episodes contained good information on how the war influenced things at home; e.g. urban growth, the labor force, patriotism, etc. Two very good segments to also consider are: 1. the stories coming from American citizens interned in the Philippines, and 2. the interview with Quentin Aanenson that reflects his horrific experiences as a fighter pilot and his depression. Also if you can swing it, try to get a vet or some living history people in to chat with the students.
  6. rumblefish

    rumblefish One Too Many

    I don't know how one would go about teaching it, but I always bring the leaders and their decisions into my discussions of WW II: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Nimitz. Churchill, and Montgomery. Tojo, and Yamamoto. Stalin and Zhukov. I've read quite a few of biographies and was able to learn about each individual.

    Just recently I was given The Teaching Company's courses on CD on WW II and others pertaining to WW II. Although they were relatively brief they did a good job of bringing together a lot of what I learned from the reading I've done. Going from biography to biography, for me at least, is difficult if keeping a time line straight and understood is a goal. The course titled, WW II: A Military and Social History, focuses a great deal on the economic and social dilemmas that led to war and the wars impact upon them. I didn't understand completely until later on in my life that yeah, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany invaded Europe,,,,, but why?

    There are so many ways and angles WW II can be taught and looked at. I wish you the best Corto. I'm a bit envious of you're ability and opportunity to teach a subject like this one to young students.

  7. Alan Eardley

    Alan Eardley One Too Many

    I wouldn't bet on this having the desired effect! I am reminded of an incident that occurred to my son when he was at secondary school. The class had been given the project of interviewing someone who was alive in WW2 about their experiences and presenting them to the class.

    I had a good friend who had won the Military Medal in Operation Torch (allied landings in North Africa) in action against Vichy French forces, who fought alongside the Germans and Italians. My son spoke to my late friend (who was a really good story teller) and he came away both impressed and informed. He threw himself into preparing the presentation with uncharateristic enthusiasm and produced a very good Poorpoint presentation, which he even rehearsed.

    Come the day, he began his presentation and had just reached the part about the French sinking a British destroyer but British forces establishing a beach-head and pressing back the French defenders whan his teacher (a young History graduate) jumped up and shouted, 'Stop! Stop! You can't say this - its all wrong! The French were on our side in World War Two!' My boy received an 'F' for 'being incorrect', even though he had been given the facts by someone who was there, and I had checked his presentation for accuracy.

    She had apparently never heard of Operation Torch, or Martial Petain, the Vichy French Army or the sinking of the French Fleet by the Royal Navy.

    Looking back, I wish I'd have thought to ask her who's side she thought the Italians were on...

  8. Staredge

    Staredge One of the Regulars

    Guess she didn't understand why Renault threw the bottle of Vichy Water away in disgust at the end of CASABLANCA. lol

    Tell me you went to the head of the school and got the F changed.

  9. Alan Eardley

    Alan Eardley One Too Many

    You think she ever watched Casablanca?

    I actually recieved a note from the Head telling me that my son had failed the assessment because of his incorrect version of history! The implication was that I had mislead him.

    I sent the Head a selection of items from history books descriing the political situation in France and Africa and describing the action and disposition of forces. To his credit, I received an apology and the presentation was given a pass grade - but not, in my opinion as good as it deserved.

  10. Joli7211

    Joli7211 Familiar Face

    Sounds like your son needed a biography for his presentation for references... Not only did he do the interview, but he went beyond and checked the facts to support the story that he got. At least the teacher and the Head could check the references before giving him an F. It's unfortunate that he didn't get the deserved mark from the get go. :(

    Personally, as a Canadian, I have to say that the Dieppe battle was very important in the battle for Europe. Many Canadians died before even reaching the beaches of Dieppe. However without the learning experience from that lost battle (both battles were very similar - one had air support while the second didn't...), D-day would not have had the successes that it had. I think we can all say that for the European war, D-day was certainly a decisive battle in the outcome of the war.

    Another cool "history experiment" would be to "re-enact" the homefront. Find out what the population of the town was made of, and then with your classes, seperate the men and women - those that went to the war (either front), those that stayed home... those that came back and those that didn't. How did that affect the community afterwards? (I'm specifically thinking of one of the battles in one of the WW's that decimated the male population of Newfoundland, which led to mass starvation in the outports at the time, Newfoundland joining Canada in 1959, and today's dying of the unique Nfld culture and massive exodus from Nfld... I'm sure that there were "local" consequences to the war in your area too...)

    There were so many consequences to these WW's. We are still living with them today.
  11. Twitch

    Twitch My Mail is Forwarded Here

    The "innovations and advancements" in the world's aircraft industry alone was immense. In 6 years it went from biplanes on the front lines to jets. And aerial weaponry similarly advanced with rifle caliber guns of .30 caliber culminating in devestating quartets of 30 mm cannon.
  12. rumblefish

    rumblefish One Too Many

    Very good point! This didn't just so happen during the course of the war, but directly because of the war and the need for it.
  13. Performance wise, yes, but not so much in terms of actual innovation. Pretty much all of the advancements found in aircraft in 1945 existed in 1939, often in production models. The big gains came mainly from the Germans, and mainly from experimental models which never had any wartime effect.

    Now the war that really affected aircraft development...would be WWI.
  14. Staredge

    Staredge One of the Regulars

    Surprised someone hasn't jumped in yet. CBI: China-Burma-India. The guys flying the Hump. The Flying Tigers get mentioned a bit, but it might not hurt to throw them in as well.

    Want to get really politically incorrect? Operation Unthinkable. The plans to invade the Soviet Union.

    A good, even handed discussion of the Japanese Internment camps. DEFINITELY the 442nd Reg. Combat Team, the most decorated fighting unit in US history.

    So much to work with, so little time. (and then you get into political correctness issues as well)

  15. Decodence

    Decodence A-List Customer

    I cannot believe the ignorance of educators in this day and age. Scraping the bottom of the barrel it seems.

    As far as overlooked areas, Japanese Invasion and slaughter of China is all but forgotten in most WWII books.
  16. surely

    surely A-List Customer

    imo the most over looked development was the development of large scale system and organizational technologies which has led to the world wide proliferation of large scale corporations.
  17. Alan Eardley

    Alan Eardley One Too Many

    Not necessarily ignorance, but a restriction in what is promulgated due to political correctness. In 'the new Europe' we all have to be friends. In the UK National Curriculum it is indicated (in depth) that Germany was ruled by an aberrant regime, the role of Italy was ambiguous, but the role of France does not get discussed.

    An amusing anecdote - the teaching of 'modern history' in English schools is notoriously dominated by 'Germany between the wars' and 'the rise of Nazism'. At the Christmas Concert at my local school, the carol sheet had been typed by the history teacher. The automatic spelling checker in Microsoft Word had changed the line in 'Good King Wenceslas' from, 'Hither, page, and stand by me' to 'Hitler, page...' from constant use of the word.

  18. Alan Eardley

    Alan Eardley One Too Many

    He had a full biography - he was even loaned the medal to show. Even that didn't convince the teacher that the events may have taken place as described.

  19. Here's one American who strongly believes the first turning point of the war was the Battle of Britain. The Battle of France was over. Britain's Army was defeated at Dunkirk, most of its weapons left behind (although an enourmous amount of men were rescud from the beaches at Dunkirk to fight another day). There was little time to rebuild before Hitler would likely invade. Without the heroic stand the understrength RAF made against the Luftwaffe, the whole course of the war would have been different. The RAF had approximately 650 modern fighter planes to send up against against over 2500 German combat aircraft. Moreover, the RAF was desperately short of pilots. By innovative (for that time) use of radar and tactics, the RAF kept the Luftwaffe from gaining sir superiority, and thus held off the planned invasion of England. When we came into the war we would not have had Britain as a springboard, we would possibly have started our war against the Germans in Canada. Or worse yet, we could all be marching the goose-step if the RAF had not held the Luftwaffe from attaining air superiority. The Battle of Britain was a close run thing, and the margin of victory was indeed a narrow margin. But The Luftwaffe's switch to night-time bombing ultimately led to the Blitz, which gave Dowding's overstretched fighter squadrons more of a chance to regroup. By the spring of 1941, Hitler abandoned his plans to invade Britain, and turned his sights east. If not for the valiant stand of the RAF in the Battle of Britain, he could just as easily turned his sights on North America.
  20. kampkatz

    kampkatz Practically Family

    Did anybody mention development of the atomic bomb? This was spurred on
    by the race to prevent the Axis powers from attaining the bomb first.

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