How did the United States move from isolation to international leadership in a generation?
First edition. June 2006.

Today it is difficult for many students to imagine the tremendous debate in the United States about how to respond to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The debate lasted until the attack on Pearl Harbor and divided Congress, families, and neighbors. Using diverse primary sources and readings, students consider the effects of the end of World War I, the Great Depression, and the challenges to liberal democracy from international socialism and fascism. Students recreate the competing ideas at play in the United States in a role play of the debate in Congress over the Lend-Lease Act.


The readings examine the domestic and international legacies of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. Students also explore the effects of the Great Depression, the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt, and the U.S. response to the gathering storm in Asia and Europe. The epilogue reviews FDR’s legacy and the end of isolationism.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


The Great Depression

Students examine photographs, a Robert Frost poem, one of FDR's Fireside Chats, a series of graphs, and directed questions help gain a broad understanding of the Great Depression and its effects.

Political Geography of the Interwar Period

Students identify major geographical landmarks and connect them to historical events.

Between World Wars

After constructing a timeline, students examine cause and effect relationships between historical events and consider relationships among the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Students draw upon primary sources and work cooperatively to recreate the great debate about the Lend-Lease Bill.

Listening to FDR

Students listen to Roosevelt's 1941 'Four Freedoms' Speech and analyze its immediate and long-term implications.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Beard, Charles. President Roosevelt and the Coming of War, 1941: Appearance and Realities. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003). 614 pages.

Jonas, Manfred. Isolationism in America, 1935-1941. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966). 315 pages.

Langer, William L. and S. Everett Gleason. The Challenge to Isolation, 1937-1940. (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1952). 794 pages.

Minear, Richard. Dr. Suess Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Suess Geisel. (New York: New Press, 1999). 272 pages.

Neu, Charles. The Troubled Encounter: The United States and Japan. (New York: Wiley, 1975). 257 pages.

Collection of FDR’s speeches in text and audio format
Twelve hours of interviews with ordinary Americans on the attack on Pearl Harbor
Collection of 160,000 images from the Great Depression through World War II
Information on America First that includes some of Lindbergh’s speeches in audio and text format
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