Midterm and Final Examination Study Guides

Mid-Term Study Guide

What follows below is more than a study guide. As explained at the semester’s start, one of these exercises in thoughtful analysis will appear—verbatim—on the mid-term examination. Because you don’t know which one, I heartily recommend that you study them all.

Some words to the wise: Read each question several times. Determine what fundamental issue(s) each question addresses, and formulate a thesis that responds directly to these issues. Never forget that historians do not “merely” tell a story (though we often tell some whoppers). We interpret and argue. Thus organize your essay appropriately.

As with your op ed essays, your introduction should explicitly express/articulate your thesis or your argument. Then in the body of the essay cite—early and often— evidence to support what in the introduction you indicate that you intend to argue. By the time you reach the end, consequently, you should not need a conclusion or la summary (although you may include one).

The examination will also several names, terms, concepts, or places which I will ask you to identify and explain the historical significance. I will give you a choice of 5 out of 7. Your responses should be succinct and to the point (I provide examples below following the essay questions); plan to allocate 1-2 minutes for each. I will not play “gotcha” but rather select the IDs from either the lecture outlines or the the list of terms that follow each of the outlines.

Please take some time to consider these questions prior to our review session on October 18 and come to prepared to articulate your argument and support it with evidence

  1. Discuss and evaluate the influence of the development of atomic/nuclear weapons on the foreign policies and national security strategies of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Assess the extent to which the coming of the “nuclear age” affected how the United States conducted its foreign relations. Draw on the historical record to support your arguments.
  2. Many observers, particularly at the time, referred to John Kennedy’s management of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the “Finest Hour” of his tragically short presidency. Because of his leadership, courage, and resolve, claimed these observers, the United States confronted the Soviet Union eye ball to eye ball, and the Soviets blinked. With the benefit of the historian’s 20-20 hindsight and access to documents and attendant materials, what would you call Kennedy’s management, and what are your reasons? Conclude with an overall assessment of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its implications for understanding Cold War dynamics.
  3. A leading scholar of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War has argued that historians invariably characterize U.S. policies, programs, and strategies from the death of Franklin Roosevelt in April 1945 to the approval of NSC 68 in 1950 as either “wise,” “foolish,” or “prudent.” Selecting illustrations carefully and judiciously, characterize U.S. policies, programs, and strategy during this period. Were they wise, foolish, or prudent? Were some of them wise, others foolish, and still others prudent? Make sure to back up your judgments with evidence (including to the extent practical the documents available online, in the Levering, et.al. volume, etc).

* Harry Truman: Former Democratic Senator and Vice President who accidentally became president upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. Highly uninformed when he initially took office, he presided over the United States during the evolution of the Cold War, confronting crises over Greece, Berlin, China, and Korea and promoting the strategy of containment.

Final Examination Study Guide

Your final opportunity to dazzle me rapidly approaches.

I will not repeat the guidance I provided for the mid-term. The same applies for the final, and the mid-term study guide is still available above.

To summarize, you should begin your preparation by identifying what are the fundamental historical issues raised by the question. Then develop a thesis (argument) that is both necessary and sufficient to address those issues. That argument will frame the remainder/body of your essay. The story you tell following the introductory paragraph will use evidence and illustrations to support your argument. You can find an abundance of both in the readings, lectures, and materials on line (the documents and links on the outlines). Write as clearly as you can; strive for logic, consistency, and coherence (avoid tangents); and anticipate counterarguments (the dreaded “but what about” questions) and preempt/coopt them. No less I importantly, rather than include in your essay everything but the kitchen sink (i.e., everything you know), select that evidence and those examples that best support your argument.

Take your time and be careful. Although for the final you must respond to two (out of four) essay questions (valued at up to 60 points apiece), and you will still need to identify and explain the significance of those pesky names and terms (six out of eight, each worth a maximum of 5 points), two hours will be more than sufficient time for you to do a bang-up job. But you will need to prepare in advance!

Enough already: Let the games begin!

1.An authority on U.S. history has written,

“Henry Kissinger believed that, in creating a design for a world order, realism was more compassionate than romanticism. The great moralists, in his judgment, had been failures. Woodrow Wilson had proved ineffectual, and John Foster Dulles had turned foreign policy into a crusade that led straight into the Indochina quagmire. Kissinger did not make peace or justice the objective of his policy, nor was he particularly interested in ‘making the world safe for democracy.’ He merely wished to make the world safer and more stable.”

This authority predictably concludes that Kissinger would go down in history as a great statesman and earn the gratitude of all Americans for his insightful understanding of history and astute recognition of what constitutes the national interest.

Do you agree with this authority’s assessment of Kissinger? According to this understanding of Kissinger, who among Kissinger’s successors were “realists” and who were “moralists”? And which of these would you consider successful and which failures. Why?


2.The history of U.S. foreign policy during the Reagan administration remains to be written. To some, he was a skilled statesman with exceptional foresight whose resolute execution of a brilliant grand strategy achieved his most important aims: the prevention of communist expansion, the consignment of the “Evil Empire” to the ash heap of history, and the restoration of America’s strength, confidence, and spirit. To others, Reagan was an uninformed, detached ideologue, incapable of understanding global complexity. His rigidity, myopia, and ignorance unnecessarily increased international tension even as it undermined America’s economic vitality

Choose your side. How would you evaluate Reagan and his foreign policy? What do you consider his legacy? Comparing Reagan’s successes to Carter’s distresses, address this fundamental historical question: Would you attribute the results and consequences of their respective foreign policies primarily to the premises and initiatives of the two presidents and their advisors, or to the historical circumstance in which each president found himself?

Provide appropriate evidence (e.g., examples) to support your arguments.


3.In the introduction to Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the editors write:

“The Wars in Afghanistan gave form to the GWOT [Global War on Terror], and thus that broader war can be traced to the forces unleashed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution in Iran that same year. For that reason, 1979 may someday overshadow 1989 (when the collapse of the Berlin Wall served as a catalyst for the end of the Cold War] as a watershed in global politics.”

Concentrating on the material we have covered since the mid-term, but without hesitating to reach into your memories to dredge up a tidbit or two from before, comment on this comment. In light of the insights you have gained from this course about the Cold War, what would you estimate was its significance both for the United States and the world at large? That estimate begs another:  your estimate of the significance of the Cold War’s end. Then, by focusing on the lectures and  taking into account the relevant assigned essays in Understanding the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you should be able to identify  “the forces unleashed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution in Iran that same year.” What have been the consequences of those forces? Using your historical imagination, can you envision a historian writing 30 years ago that these consequences overshadow those of the Cold War? Or not? This essay requires you to think big.


4.Responding to a question at a press conference in 1982, Ronald Reagan provided the following history of the escalation of America’s commitment to Vietnam:

“If I recall correctly, when France gave up Indochina as a colony, the leading nations of the world met in Geneva in regard to helping those colonies become independent nations. And since North and South Vietnam had been previous to colonization two separate countries, provisions were made that these two countries could by a vote of all their people together decide whether they wanted to be one country or not….

“And there wasn’t anything surreptitious about it, but when Ho Chi Minh refused to participate in such an election and there was provision that the peoples of both countries could cross the border and live in the other country if they wanted to, and when they began leaving by the thousands and thousands from North Vietnam to live in South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh closed the border and again violated that part of the agreement.

And they were doing this, if I recall correctly, also in civilian clothes, no weapons, until theybegan being blown up where they lived, in walking down the street by people riding by on bicycles and throwing pipe bombs at them. And then they were permitted to carry side arms or wear uniforms.

“But it was totally a program until John F. Kennedy, when these attacks and forays became so great that John F. Kennedy authorized the sending in of a division of marines. That was the first move toward combat moves in Vietnam.

Drawing on the lectures and your reading of Mark Lawrence’s The Vietnam War, please provide the former president with the correct history of the evolution of America’s military intervention in Vietnam. Conclude by developing and articulating an argument, informed by the readings and lectures, as to the extent to which in your judgment the military and diplomatic history of America’s involvement in Vietnam after the Kennedy administration was congruent with or differed from President Reagan’s understanding of the genesis of US military intervention.