What would you do if you ran Great Britain during WWII?

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For the last few weeks, Roberto Clemente Community Academy’s IB Diploma Programme History of the Americas students have been examining the causes of World War II and how decisions made by different leaders around the globe may or may not have lead to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the destruction caused by the war.

To begin, students first examined the conditions caused by the First World War  and the Treaty of Versaille which officially ended the war. These conditions include ruined infrastructure, destroyed economies, and low morale.  How did this impact people living in countries like Great Britain, France, and Germany? Students pondered these questions in small groups.

Then students took on the roles of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his military advisors. They were presented with the issues at the time including the conditions discussed previously and the steps Germany had taken including annexing parts of Austria and invading Czechoslovakia. What would you do in this situation? Given the situation at hand, how would students proceed had they been in charge? Would they too follow a policy of appeasement to avoid war, or would they take military action?

Students debated this issue in small groups and then with one another. Appeasement would avoid war and prevent the dangers and issues caused by World War I, but aggressive steps would send a signal not to continue.  Like many controversial topics, a consensus was not going to happen easily.

Now that students have explored the issue on their own, students are examining a series of primary source documents including speeches by Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill as well as a timeline of events and facts of the war.  Through this examination of primary source documents, students are taking on the role of the historian to determine whether or not the right call was made by England. While it is easy to say what should have been done in hindsight, with the experience of trying to figure it out themselves, students will have a better understanding of the difficult situations many leaders face in times of crisis.