Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill Photo: Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill
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AMERICA AT WAR - 6.29.04
For Educators  :  Lesson Plan
About the Series
Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill is an innovative public affairs series from PBS that brings together both compelling examinations of critical issues and a dynamic pairing of two of the most respected names in journalism.

Television Poll How do Americans feel about the war in Iraq? View the results of the Flashpoints USA nationwide survey.

Lesson Plan: Looking Back
Teaching Controversial Issues


In this lesson students to go back in time and use critical analysis skills to role-play members of the National Security Council tracing the decision that led to the United States’ decision to go to war. Then students compare the consequences of the decision using their knowledge of the situation as it currently stands.
Subjects: government, history, social studies

Grades: 9-12

Time Needed: 1-class period


1. Introduction — Begin by having students imagine that the decision to go to war with Iraq has not yet been made and they do not know how events have unfolded. As a large group, brainstorm what leaders need to consider before going to war. List responses on the chalkboard. Some suggestions might be: strategic goals and purpose; military capability; morale; economic infrastructure; sensibility regarding casualties; domestic politics.

2. Then tell students to imagine they are members of the National Security Council — the president's principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters — asked to provide their input in the decision to go to war, taking into account all its precedents and implications.

3. Break students into small groups, then write the following topics on the board.

  • Precedents: Why have nations (especially the U.S.) waged war in the past? How is war generally justified?
  • Motivations: What motivates a country to go to war? What are the factors to consider in this situation?
  • Diplomacy: What is the current diplomatic situation in the United Nations? What does this mean for the future and relevance of the U.N? What international support does the U.S. have for military action?
  • Inputs: What role are others playing in the decision to go to war? The American people? Congress? Our allies? Saddam Hussein? Who has voiced opposition to the war and how have they done so?
  • Risks: What are the risks of going to war with Iraq? The possible costs?

4. Ask each group to report to the class. Allow other students to respond to what each group has said. Then lead the class through the following discussion questions.

Discussion Questions:

  • What perspective did your group bring to the table?
  • How does this war differ from wars of the past? How would it be similar?
  • How does a leader determine that diplomacy has failed and it is time to commit troops?
  • Do you think the benefits of war could outweigh the costs? Why/why not?
  • Is it ever possible to consider all implications before making a decision to go to war?

Now bring the conversation up to current events.

  • Do you think, given the information that was available at the time, that President Bush made the right decision to go to war?
  • How has the decision changed how America is viewed in the world? Will this perception change eventually?
  • Why do you think so many who initially supported the decision for war are now against it?
  • Do you think the transition of sovereignty in Iraq will be successful or make matters worse?


The National Security Council

Frontline: The Invasion of Iraq

Frontline: The Long Road to War

The Online NewsHour Extra: Plans for June 30 Handover

The Online NewsHour: A New Iraq

National Standards:

National Standards for Civics and Government

Standard 4:
  • What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs?
  • The ends and means of United States foreign policy: Evaluate, take, and defend positions on foreign policy issues in light of American national interests, values, and principles.

National Council for the Social Studies Global Connections IX:

b. Explain conditions and motivations that contribute to conflict, cooperation and interdependence among groups, societies and nations.

e. Analyze the relationships and tensions between national sovereignty and global interests, in matters such as territory, economic development, nuclear and other weapons, use of natural resources, and human rights concerns.

f. Analyze or formulate policy statements demonstrating an understanding of concerns, standards, issues and conflicts related to universal human rights;

MCREL Thinking and Reasoning Standards

Standard 1 - Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument

Standard 2 - Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning

Standard 6 - Applies decision-making techniques

MCREL Life Skills, Working with Others Standards

Standard 1 - Contributes to the overall effort of the group

Standard 4 - Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

Standard 5 - Demonstrates leadership skills


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