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LESSONS: GRADES 4-8  ›  Making History at the White House, "The White House at War"
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CORRESPONDING TEACHER'S TEXT

In wartime, the American people look to the president to command the country’s armed forces through his Constitutional authority. Through time some have accused the president of abusing that authority or interpreting it too broadly. For this reason, the president must also be a communicator-in-chief. He must articulate ideas justifying the use of force and the losses that necessarily follow from it. In every war the United States has fought since establishing the presidency, the White House has been the nation's epicenter. Decisions made there by the president and his advisers have had consequences affecting millions, and inflamed public opinion both in support of and in opposition to America’s military involvement. But the White House is also a home, and Americans have expected the first family to represent the people’s resolve, and to share in the sacrifices common to other families during moments of peril.

Much of the story of the White House is tied to the successes and failures of its inhabitants in fulfilling these expectations. At its best, the United States has proven itself capable of being both idealistic and just in prosecuting its war aims. At its worst, war has divided Americans and left them disillusioned about their government and the role of their country in the world. The story of the White House at War begins with a shameful episode, when British troops set the President’s House on fire in 1814. When considering the vigorous and spirited response to that humiliation, we see how the high and low moments of our history are represented in times of conflict.




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