Why did the Cold War begin?
Sixth edition. February 2011.

After World War II, some hoped that the United States could shape events and promote U.S. values throughout the world. Instead the United States soon found itself locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union. Understanding the origins of the Cold War gives students a foundation for understanding the history of the four decades that followed. Readings, simulations, and primary sources examine the emerging challenge posed by the Soviet Union. The materials prepare students to simulate the process faced by U.S. decision makers as they decided how to respond.


The reading places students in the context of late 1946 as they prepare to consider the debate surrounding U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Primary sources, such as speeches, newspaper articles and editorials, and political cartoons from the mid-1940s, are used extensively in the unit. Students begin with the U.S. entry into World War II and review the course of U.S.-Soviet relations during the fighting. They then examine the key issues on the postwar U.S.-Soviet agenda.


Understanding the Postwar World

By examining political cartoons, newspaper articles, and speeches from 1945-1946, students trace the events that contributed to a change in U.S.-Soviet relations and recognize areas of conflict between the two nations.

Security Concerns of the Big Four

Through role play, students identify and articulate the chief security concerns of the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, and France in 1946.

Role-Playing the Four Options

Working cooperatively to advocate for one of the four options facing the United States in 1946, students draw upon primary sources to recreate this critical moment in history.

Coping with Crisis

Students develop a classroom consensus on U.S. policy and discuss the goals and underlying values of the Truman Doctrine.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support in teaching the teaching the curriculum.


Beschloss, Michael. The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002). 377 pages.

Gaddis, John L. The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (New York:Columbia University Press, 1972). 396 pages.

Jones, Joseph Marion. The Fifteen Weeks (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964). 296 pages.

Kennan, George F. Memoirs (1925-1950) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967). 623 pages.

Kimball, Warren F. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the World Crisis, 1937-1945 (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1973). 297 pages.

Paterson, Thomas G. The Origins of the Cold War (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1974). 126 pages.

Ulam, Adam B. The Rivals: America and Russia Since World War II (New York: Penguin Books, 1971). 405 pages.

Collection of sixty-nine documents related to the Truman Doctrine
Newly available documents and analysis of events, links to other sites
Collections of documents and papers on various Cold War topics
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