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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  Provoked by Pearl Harbor: The White House Meetings of FDR and Churchill, December, 1941
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Activities: I. The Atlantic Charter and the Origins of the United Nations

  1. According to Robert Sherwood in Hopkins and Roosevelt, the British government never regarded the Atlantic Charter as a formal State Paper. Sherwood states that, "It was, to them, not much more than a publicity handout. Roosevelt, who took it much more seriously, was compelled to foster this belief by insisting that it could not be considered as in any way a Treaty; if it had been, he should have had to submit it to the Senate for ratification."

    Ask students to read excerpts from Winston Churchill's The Grand Alliance relating to the question of the Soviet Union's territorial ambitions in the Baltic States. Have them collect evidence that: (A) Churchill took the language of the charter very seriously; and (B) he believes that Roosevelt considers it an important commitment. Have students present their evidence to the class.

    As a parallel assignment, ask other students to research the political fate of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at the end of World War II, and their political, social, and economic circumstances today. Encourage students to write the UN offices of these three countries to gain specific material about each their recent histories. Ask this group of students to assess the validity of Churchill's concerns in 1941-42.

    After students have presented Churchill's concerns at the beginning of the war, and have brought the class up to date on current conditions in these three countries, ask them to write a "Progress Report" on the Baltic States, and to imagine that Winston Churchill would receive it. Encourage them to emphasize the degree to which the political environment in those three countries reflects the ideals of the Atlantic Charter. Ask them to include a prediction about what they think is likely to happen in that part of the former Soviet Union in the next few years.

  2. One outcome of the Arcadia Conference was the formulation of the Declaration by the United Nations. Ask students to conduct research on other conferences of World War II and report to the class on what major decisions were reached by the Allies at these meetings. As students present their findings, generate a list of these decisions on the board or overhead. Ask students to decide whether that action helped (+) or hindered (-) the efforts of the Allies to move toward the goals of the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration by the United Nations.

  3. Ask students to develop an evolutionary chart on the development of the United Nations. Have them begin with the charter of the League of Nations then include the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration by the United Nations and finally the United Nations Charter of 1945. Invite them to consider categories such as these: primary objectives; signatory nations and their relative power; organizing structure; binding financial and military commitments. After students analyze the chart and its results, ask them to write generalizations about the influence of early efforts at collective security on the mission, make-up, and structure of the current United Nations.

    As a parallel assignment ask several students to compare the Atlantic Charter to >Franklin Roosevelt's Annual Message to Congress, January 6, 1941. Have them present their findings to the class, stating in what ways the two documents seem related.

  4. Divide the class into two groups. Ask each group to assess the validity of this statement made by Churchill to his Foreign Secretary on January 8, 1942:

    "No one can foresee how the balance of power will lie or where the winning armies will stand at the end of the war. It seems probable however that the United States and the British Empire, far from being exhausted, will be the most powerfully armed and economic[ally strong] bloc the world has ever seen, and that the Soviet Union will need our aid for reconstruction far more we shall then need theirs."

    Students will arrive at their conclusions through research. Ask one group to focus their study on the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in 1948. Ask the other students to concentrate their efforts on the current situation in these three countries. Have students present their findings either in a class discussion or an essay.

  5. Ask students to represent artistically the ideals and goals of the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration by the United Nations. Create a display of that work.

  6. Have students visit the United Nations website. Ask students to conduct research on any action taken by the United Nations since 1945; for example, UN assisted elections in Mozambique, October 1994. Ask students to study the history of that country further to discover what circumstances prompted a UN intervention. After the research is complete, ask each student to write a United Nations Day (October 24) editorial from the perspective of that country and take a stand on the power and relevancy of the United Nations in that region.

  7. Roosevelt's ideas for re-ordering the signatories of the Declaration by the United Nations prevailed, so that the top four were the United States, the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and China. To review, click on the handwritten list. When the United Nations was organized these four countries, plus France, made up the permanent members of a 15-nation UN Security Council. Ask one group of students to conduct research to define the role of the United Nations Security Council. Ask another group to determine how China has changed politically since the end of World War II, while other students research what has happened to the political structure of the USSR. Have students provide at least two examples in which these changes have complicated the "great Power unanimity" concept, (the rule that all five of these powers must agree), and the international peacekeeping role of the Council. If time permits, let students prepare a Security Council meeting in which one of these examples is debated. Have students role-play representatives of the entire Security Council, including non-permanent members. The students should debate and vote from their assigned nations’ political perspectives.

  8. Ask students to imagine that Franklin Roosevelt could sit in on a session of the United Nations General Assembly today. Invite them to find imaginative ways to describe how they think Roosevelt might view this organization, which is an outgrowth of his ideas. Share these creative products with the class.





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