Cold War Files: All Units: Activities: Multiple Perspectives (The Berlin Crisis of 1961-62)

Multiple Perspectives (The Berlin Crisis of 1961-62)

Accompanying Materials:
Student journals
Resources for researching the Berlin Crisis (world history textbooks, computers with Internet access, CWIHP Website)
Maps of West Germany (FGR), East Germany (GDR), West Berlin and East Berlin
Copies of excerpts from Hope M. Harrison’s book, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall: Soviet East German Relations (Princeton University Press, 2000; pages
5-7, 98-102) – one copy per student

Objectives: Students will:
1) Examine the Eastern and Western perspectives on the status of Berlin (the “Berlin Question”).
2) Consider the geography of Berlin and the forces driving East German leaders to bring pressure on the Soviet Union to sign a separate peace treaty with the GDR.
3) Identify the major actors involved in the crisis.
4) Challenge pre-existing assumptions regarding the ability of a superpower to dictate the policies of its client state.

Student Activities:
1) Pre-class preparation: Review Berlin Crisis chronology at CWIHP Website and read relevant textbook pages
2) Warm-up: Students prepare written responses in their journals to the following prompts:
a) What does it mean to be a client state to a superpower?
b) To what extent do client states exert influence over their superpower?
c) Do client states that are economically, politically and/or militarily weak and in danger of collapsing have greater or diminished bargaining power in their relations with their superpower? Why?
d) To what extent does geography influence the relationship between the Soviet Union and East Germany and the relationship between the U.S. and West Berlin?
e) From the perspective of the Soviet Union, which goal has a higher priority: meeting the needs of the East German communist regime or maintaining working relations with the United States?
3) In-class activity: Read-aloud and discuss excerpts from Professor Harrison’s book, focusing on the following questions:
a) What was the Soviet/GDR perspective on the situation in Berlin in 1961?
b) Why did the status quo in Berlin pose a political and economic threat to the Soviets and the GDR? In what ways?
c) From the Soviet/GDR perspective, what were their options?
d) From the U.S. perspective, why was it crucial to defend its right of access to Berlin?
e) Who were the major actors in the Berlin Crisis?
f) According to Professor Harrison, how does the “alliance security dilemma” play out with respect to the client states’ relations with their superpowers?
g) To what extent does the “alliance security dilemma,” as applied to both superpowers, challenge pre-existing assumptions regarding the ability of a superpower to control and set policy for its client state?
h) In the case of the Berlin Crisis, how important was it for the leaders of both superpowers to be able to empathize with the other side?
i) Why does the Berlin Crisis demonstrate the importance of precise diplomatic language?
j) Why did the Soviet Union and East Germany prepare in secret for the construction of the Berlin Wall?
4) Wrap-up/Homework: Read a chapter from the book The Wall Jumpers by Peter Schneider, Leigh Hafrey (Translator) and prepare a book review focusing on how faithfully the book represents historical events.

Students will be evaluated based on their journal responses, their participation in class discussions, and the book review.

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