5. The Cold War: Videos and activities CNN Series

CNN Cold War Series

A great series of videos for teaching the Cold War: superpower tensions and rivalries is the CNN Cold War Series.

This series has proved to be controversial with right-wing historians claiming that it is too lenient on the role of the USSR in the Cold war; there is even a book containing essays from those pro and anti the series. The main points in this debate by Richard Pipes and John Lewis Gaddis are summarised on here. (See TOK exercise on this below)

However we have always found it an excellent overview for students with great interviews.

Below are links to some of our favourite episodes with question sheets and/or suggestions of which sections to show from each one.

The CNN Cold War website  has some good extras - timelines, documents etc.

Link to CNN Cold War controversy

This television documentary series has caused controversy amongst historians as you can see from the link above. What do the comments from Richard Pipes and Gaddis indicate about the difficulties of historians or documentaries presenting an unbiased interpretation of history?

Episode 2: Iron Curtain

This episode is very interesting for showing the growing tension between 1945 and 1946. This could be followed by the activity on the Rivalry, Mistrust and Accord ATL page on note taking on events 45 - 46 and also the essay on who was responsible for the collapse of the Grand Alliance (the essay frame for this is on the essay frame page under Rivalry, Mistrust and Accord: Rivalry, mistrust and accord: essay writing exercises and essay plans )

Teachers notes:

You may not want to show all of this video so here are some suggestions of bits that are particularly useful:

15 minutes: Stalin's actions in Eastern Europe - Salami tactics - and impact on the West followed by Stalin's aims and actions in Berlin

21 minutes: Poland and the puppet government

26 minutes: the Kennan telegram - interesting interview with Kennan

29 minutes: Churchill and the Fulton Speech

33 minutes: Soviet actions in Iran

37 minutes: breakdown of relations in Germany

39 minutes: the Stuttgart Speech

Key questions:

  1. What were Stalin's aims in Eastern Europe?
  2. What was Stalin worried about?
  3. By what means did Stalin extend control in Poland?
  4. What was the impact of the Kennan telegram?
  5. How did Stalin react to Churchill's speech?
  6. What was the significance of Stalin's actions in Iran?
  7. How did arguments over Germany increase tension?
  8. What was the significance of the Stuttgart Speech?

Episode 3: The Marshall Plan

It is worth showing most of this episode as it explain clearly the rationale and impact of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. The questions take students through the episode from the beginning of the video.

Question sheet to go with CNN Cold War episode 3

Episode 5: The Korean War

This episode gives a good overview of the war, its causes and the key events. The questions take the students through the whole episode.

Question sheet to go with CNN Cold War Episode 5, The Korean War

Episode 6: The Red Scare

The first twenty-five minutes of this video are excellent for showing the impact of the Red Scare and McCarthyism on America. The rest of the video is about the Terror taking place in the USSR which is also interesting though not as directly relevant for the development of the Cold War.

This worksheet has questions for the first section of the video on the Red Scare in the US.

Question sheet to go with Episode 6 of the CNN Cold War Series, Reds

Note: For links to episodes 6 and 7  refer to  The Soviet Union and Russia (1924–2000): Videos

Episode 9: The Berlin Wall: 1958 - 63

This episode is excellent for giving the 'story' of the Berlin Wall. It goes through the events leading up to the building of the wall, the stories of those who tried to escape, the tank stand-off at the wall and finally Kennedy's speech in Berlin.

Episode 12: The Arms Race (MAD)

This episode gives a clear outline of the different strategies that were thought up on how to use nuclear weapons in the 1950s and then the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis in bringing about the concept of MAD. Again, some great interviews.

The questions here focus on the development of nuclear strategy from Eisenhower through to MAD

Question sheet to go with Episode 12 on the Arms Race

Episode 16: Détente

This episode contains a great overview of the causes and developments of detente including ostpolitik and the impact of triangular diplomacy.

This question sheet starts at 10 minutes in. (The first ten minutes are on Nixon's actions in Cambodia and Vietnam.)

Question sheet to go with Episode 16 on Detente

Episode 20: Soldiers of God

This goes over the events that brought the Soviet Union into Afghanistan, the nature of the war and the impact that this had on the Cold War.

Teacher's notes

Students should take notes on:

  • Reasons why the Soviets got involved in Afghanistan
  • The nature of the fighting
  • The impact of the Soviet intervention on the US and its policies in this region
  • The impact of Afghanistan on the Cold War

Episode 23: The Wall comes down

A riveting episode showing the sequence of unexpected events leading to the Wall coming down.

Teacher's notes

It is worth showing all of this episode. Students should take notes on the sequence of events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the significance of the actions of Gorbachev in the process.

Episode 24: Conclusions 1989 - 1991

This episode completes the story of the collapse of the Soviet Union covering events in Czechoslovakia and Rumania. It also covers events in the Baltic States, growing opposition to Gorbachev, the attempted coup against Gorbachev and the rise of Yeltsin which results in the end of the Soviet Union. (An alternative to showing this video is People's Century (on the other video page) which also does a good overview of the final collapse though without the internal events in the Soviet Union).

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