Target Texas - Cold War Civic Preparedness in the Lone Star State
Social Studies, Grades 9–12
Through analysis of primary source archival footage, students will demonstrate their understanding of the concept of Cold War fears relating to the prospect of nuclear war.
The following activity assumes students are familiar with ideological differences between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. following WWII.
Students should possess an awareness of the growing destructive power of nuclear weapons, from the 1945 atomic bomb (measuring destructive force in kilotons) to the 1951 Hydrogen Bomb (measuring destructive force by the megaton or millions of tons of TNT).
Austin was home to daily sonic booms in the 1960s as B-58s practiced bombing missions over the Texas Hill Country. Introduce students to the video Project 7 – Thunder Over Austin, https://texasarchive.org/2010_00783.
Use the Educator Links in the box below the video player to view Segment 1 (1:14 to 3:28). Discuss the clip as a class. Questions: Has anyone experienced a sonic boom? How did the film characterize people’s reactions to sonic booms? Would it be strange to experience this on a daily basis? In the context of the Cold War, how would you expect locals to react?
Follow the first clip with Segment 2 (8:43 – 11:22). This clip features Austinites’ opinions about the causes of the sonic booms. Discuss the clip as a class focusing on the reactions of locals: What reasoning(s) did locals give for the sonic booms? How did they feel about their city being home to the booms? How would you feel if your community experienced this on a daily basis?
These actions were part of the nation’s civic preparedness for the possibility of nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. Review the definition of civic with the class. Civic can mean of or pertaining to a city, of or pertaining to citizenship, or of citizens.
Discuss the concepts of emergency preparedness and civic preparedness as a class. Compare similarities and differences. Ask students to give examples of both types of activities (note: there may also be overlap) and write the examples on the board using a T-chart.
Show students the vide Target Austin, https://texasarchive.org/2013_02699
Use the Educator Links in the box below the video player to view Segment 1 (0:26 to 4:25). After viewing, discuss the clip as a class. Discuss the following questions and concepts: Why was this film created? What is your response to the film and do you think the filmmakers intended that response? (Discuss the culture of fear propagated by the Cold War.) Why would Austin or Texas been considered a target of the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War? (Explore commerce, transportation, government, natural resources, population centers, and military installations in the Austin-area and state.)
Follow the first clip with Segment 2 (5:03 – 11:30). Ask students to take notes on the main characters’ reactions to the events. Discuss the participants’ actions: Which characters seem like the best citizens? What outcome do you predict for each character?
Continue with Segment 3 (11:30 – 15:03) followed by Segment 4 (17:02 – 18:30) and ask students to continue taking notes.
Discuss the film in full: Why was this film created? What is your response to the film and do you think the filmmakers intended that response? What roles do citizenship and fear play in “Target Austin”? What is civic responsibility according to this film? How is fear represented in the film or used to set the tone?
Share with the class: There are several reasons Austin could be considered a military target. In addition to being the state capitol, it was also home to Nike missiles and an air force base during the Cold War. In this activity, students will access potential targets in Texas. Students should consider centers of commerce, transportation, government, natural resources, population, and military instillations. Have students select a potential targets in the state of Texas. Use sticky notes to affix the targets to a Texas map while having each student explain their selection.
Discussion Questions: What areas of the state seem most dangerous and safest? Would your community be a target? What fears exist in your community relating to public safety? Are these fears warranted? Is fear a good or bad motivator for civic preparedness?
In conclusion, assign students a response paper asking them to compare contemporary fears and civic preparedness relating to terrorist attacks to the fears and preparedness activities of the Cold War.
Have students watch a narrative film about the Cold War choosing from the Conelrad list of 100 Atomic Films (http://www.conelrad.com/conelrad100/index.html) or another resource. Films can be chosen by students or assigned.
Have students write a short essay comparing the narrative films to the clips of “Target Austin” shown in class.
PBS American Experience “Race for the Superbomb”
The Cold War Museum
The Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Social Studies and History Teacher’s Blog