This lesson plan is the first in a series of five on America's involvement in WWII. It deals with the events that led up to America's decision to enter the war, including the aftermath of WWI, the United States' retreat into isolationism, and legislation designed to keep the country out of war.
American involvement in World War II was far from a foregone conclusion when the European segment of the war began with Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939. Powerful forces worked against American intervention, delaying it until 1941. It was only when events in Europe coincided with a shift in public opinion that America entered the war.
Lesson Objectives: This lesson focuses upon the forces that worked against American involvement, and also attempts to provide background for the decision to go to war.
1. Write the following question on the classroom board and have students answer in a journal (if they keep one for class) or on a separate sheet of paper. "Why would Americans choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world after World War I?"
2. Distribute copies of Wilson's 14 Points. Either working individually or in pairs, have students "translate" the points, simplifying them and understanding what the president's goals were at Versailles. Then discuss which points were actually adopted, paying particular attention to the 14th (the League of Nations) and American retreat from international involvement.
3. Discuss the international impact of the Great Depression. Make sure to key upon the disastrous effects upon the fledgling Weimar Republic in Germany and the rise of Fascist governments in Spain and Italy. Briefly profile Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler.
4. Describe the growth and aggression of totalitarian regimes such as the Nazis. Break the class into 3 groups, giving each a different Neutrality Act. Have the groups report to each other upon the contents of their act. Discuss the cumulative significance - that Congress was attempting to insure that America would remain separated from foreign troubles.
5. Using the Wikimedia site, use the classroom projector to show Axis gains from the invasion of Poland (September 1939) to the middle of 1941. Discuss the implications for the United States.
6. Present two opposing viewpoints on the war by having students listen to Charles Lindbergh's attacks upon intervention and President Roosevelt's explanation of the necessity for the Lend-Lease program. Close the class with the beginnings of a vocabulary list. Good candidates for terms include isolationism, neutrality, fascism, dictatorship (or individual dictators), Axis, Lend-Lease, but teachers may use any terms that they feel are appropriate.