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President Ronald Reagan: The End of the Cold War, Communism in China, and The Iran-Contra Affair
President Ronald Reagan cut funding to many social programs that provided economic assistance to the middle class and poor. He believed cutting taxes, especially on the rich, would help the economy to become stronger. Yet, the Cold War was still a focus for the USA. Reagan pumped huge amounts of money into defense spending to ensure the USA remained more powerful than the Soviet Union of Russia, in terms of military might. He ordered the building of the Strategic Defense Initiative. He claimed it could stop nuclear missiles from hitting the USA, even suggesting it would use lasers to do so. It was nicknamed “Star Wars.” Democrats argued it was too expensive, unrealistic, and would simply increase hostility with the USSR. Since World War II ended, the USA had tension with various leaders of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin was a ruthless dictator who killed and persecuted many people. Under his leadership, the USSR built nuclear weapons and entered into an arms race with the USA. Nikita Khrushchev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party after Stalin, experienced less tension with the USA. Yet, during his time in office, the USA and the USSR experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis and came close to all out nuclear war. Mikhail Gorbachev was different. As General Secretary of the Communist Party, he stressed that the USSR needed to pursue changes, such as allowing the freedom of speech and press, letting free enterprise be established, and taking steps to establish a Democracy in the USSR. His goal in pursuing these plans was called glasnost, which meant transparency.
President Ronald Reagan was extremely clear that he felt the USSR, in the 1980s, was a threat to the world. In a speech given in 1983, to the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan said of the USSR, “They preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth…I urge you to beware the temptation…to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire…” Many were concerned that Reagan was increasing the tension of the Cold War. Others felt Reagan was aggressively trying to bring about the fall of the USSR. Despite his bold opinion of the USSR, Reagan felt Gorbachev could be an agent of change for the Soviet Union.
Reagan’s massive commitment to defense spending was damaging the USSR’s economy as they tried to keep up. Gorbachev wanted to reduce military tension so the USSR could stop trying to keep up with defense spending. This led to Reagan and Gorbachev to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). This banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges, defined as between (300-3,400 miles). It also allowed inspection of nuclear capabilities between the USA and the USSR. The increased cooperation between the USA and the Soviet Union led to discussions about past actions of the USSR. In Eastern Germany, the Western Portion of the city of Berlin was a Democracy. Yet, the Eastern portion of the city was Communist. The USSR literally built a wall around the Western portion, cutting it off from Eastern Europe. Families were literally broken up and many in the East tried to get across the wall to escape the Communism of East Germany. In 1987, Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech demanding that the Berlin Wall be torn down. Eventually, the pro-Soviet military presence evacuated the area. In 1989, the wall was torn down by citizens of West and East Germany. Gorbachev’s desire to implement some forms of Democracy, the desire to reduce military funding in the USSR to cease trying to keep up with Reagan’s defense spending, and the decline of the USSR’s economy led to the Soviet Union breaking apart. The Soviet Union consisted of Russia and the Russian control of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Yet, by 1991, these nations had broken away from the core nation, Russia. Russia became a Democracy and the other areas were allowed to form their own national governments. This was the end of the Soviet Union alliance.
China also reduced its Communist practices somewhat in the 1980s. For instance, China allowed more freedom and put less control on businesses. Yet, many Chinese citizens wanted more extreme reforms. In 1989, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, college students led protests against the government. China’s leader, Li Peng, ordered the military to end the protests. The nations of the world watched on CNN as the military attacked the students. After the event, it was clear China was going to remain Communist, despite their small changes.
Iranian terrorists took American hostages in the country of Lebanon in 1985. In a controversial move, Reagan sold weapons to Iran, a nation at war with Iraq, in agreement for the hostages to be let go. The USA used the funds from Iran to help fund the Contras of Nicaragua, who were fighting against Communist like takeovers from occurring in Central America. The Boland Amendment said America could not fund revolutionary groups in Central America. The Contras used brutal tactics and many American government leaders did not support them. In 1992, President Bush had to pardon several members of Reagan’s staff for illegally selling weapons and giving the money to guerilla fighters in Central America.