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Battle of the Bulge offers insights into American history topics including World War II, military strategy, the importance of technology in war, first-person accounts of war, unilateralism or multilateralism in foreign policy, and the role of the military in a democratic society. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this website to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.
The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: geography, economics, history, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints below for completing the activities.
1. Divide the class into groups of three persons each. Within each group, one person should create a map showing Germany's borders as of 1938; one should create a map showing the territory controlled by Germany as of 1942; and one should create a map showing the postwar division of Germany. Post these maps around the class and discuss the events that caused Germany's expansion and later defeat and division. List these events on a timeline on the board.
2. As the film notes, a major factor in the Allied victory in the Battle of the Bulge was air power. Today, air power remains a vital part of American military strategy. Prepare a brief report comparing a specific element of the United States' use of air power in World War II and more recent conflicts, such as those over Kosovo and Afghanistan. For example, you might compare the capabilities (for example, range, speed, and armament) of American military aircraft in these two eras, or you might examine how technological advances have improved the accuracy of bombing since World War II.
1. What percentage of its economy, usually expressed as its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do you think the United States devoted to the armed forces during World War II? What percentage of its economy do you think the United States devotes to the armed forces today? Take an informal poll of five classmates, friends, or family members on these two questions. Combine your results with those of your classmates, keeping in mind that no person should respond to the poll more than once. What is the range of guesses for each question? What is the average? Now look up the answers to these questions. How accurate were people?
2. The greatest "cost" of World War II was in lives. Find out the number of persons (both soldiers and civilians) killed in the war in each of the major nations that took part in the war. (a) Present this data in two forms: as a bar graph and as a pie chart. (b) Divide the number of American deaths by the total U.S. population at the start of the war to find out roughly what percentage of the total U.S. population died in the war. Now, multiply this percentage by the current U.S. population. American deaths during World War II were equivalent (as a share of population) to how many deaths today?
1. What if Hitler's gamble at the Battle of the Bulge had succeeded and Germany had permanently stopped the Allied advance in the West? Imagine that you are a historian in 1960 looking back on the battle. Write a brief article in which you describe Germany's victory in the battle and the effects that the victory had on subsequent events.
2. The Battle of the Bulge was neither the first nor the last time that U.S. military forces faced a desperate situation. Divide the class into 6 groups and assign each group one of the following: Valley Forge (1777-1778), the Battle of Chancellorsville (1863), the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876), the Japanese invasion of the Philippines (1941), the North Korean invasion of South Korea (1950), and the Tet Offensive (1968). Each group should prepare a brief oral report for the class, answering the following questions: Why was the U.S. situation desperate? How did the U.S. forces respond? What was the outcome, both in the short term and over the course of the conflict as a whole?
1. As the film notes, one of the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge was General George Patton. View the Academy Award-winning 1970 film "Patton," which dramatizes events from his life (including his role in the Battle of the Bulge) and shows some of the contrasts between Patton and other American generals. Write an essay explaining what you do and do not admire about Patton as he is portrayed in the film. What does his story tell you about the special challenges of being a military leader in a democratic society like the United States?
2. The United States fought World War II as part of an international coalition. Similarly, the United States has sought allies in its current war against terrorism. Divide the class into two groups and hold a debate on the following question: Should the United States generally pursue its foreign policy goals by cooperating with other nations, or should it generally act on its own? Support your view with specific examples from past and current events.
1. You also should make sure students are aware of Germany's reunification in 1990 following the collapse of East Germany. (You might want to compare Germany's present-day borders to those of 1938.)
2. Students also might want to explore the debate, which has continued in one form or another for decades, about the potential of air power to partially or even completely eliminate the need for ground troops to achieve military objectives.
1. During World War II, military spending accounted for more than 35 percent of GDP, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Today it accounts for about 3.5 percent of GDP, according to an analysis (table 9) of President Bush's fiscal year 2003 request done by the nonprofit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment.
2a. If students are having trouble with the pie chart, explain that the total pie represents the total number of deaths suffered by all major warring nations.
2b. You also might have students compare Soviet deaths during World War II with the current U.S. population so they can get a sense of the enormous cost of the war to the Soviet Union.
1. Though there is no way to know what the consequences of a German victory would have been, students might imagine that the United States ended the war by dropping atomic bombs on Germany, or that the Soviet Union eventually defeated Germany and occupied much or all of continental Europe.
2. After the presentations, ask students how, in the cases where U.S. forces were defeated in the battle, the United States nevertheless was able to win the war.
1. If students need help getting started, ask them to think about the tension between discipline and hierarchy, which the armed forces need in order to function effectively, and individual freedom and equality, which are highly valued in the United States. You also might use the essays as the starting point of a larger discussion about the role of the military in the United States and to what degree that role has changed as the United States has become a world power.
2. Students who favor cooperation might point out that other nations can provide various forms of support to promote American goals. Students who favor unilateral action might point out that working with allies often forces a nation to make compromises in its policies.
My American Experience
Were you there for the Battle of the Bulge? The storming of Normandy beach? The Victory in the Pacific? Or perhaps your friends and relatives have passed on stories of their own World War II experiences that you would like to share.