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Foreign Policy • Foreign Policy
Classroom Activities

Objective: Students will consider how World War II influenced Americans' worldview and the United States' approach to foreign policy.

Key Questions:

  • How have historical events influenced the move from a primarily isolationist American foreign policy in the 19th century to a more moralist foreign policy in the 20th century?

Notes on Implementation:

  • Extend the activity by conducting a debate between Team Isolation and Team Intervention
  • Provide additional support to students by providing sentence frames for students (The United States is still recovering from ______; Nazi Germany will _____; The United States is in danger of _______.) Alternatively, provide a Word or Idea Bank to suggest concepts that students may want to consider when crafting their argument (for example, Monroe Doctrine; Great Depression; Nazi Germany, human rights)

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Foreign Policy Topic Center within the American Government database.

Student Activity:

Since the founding of the United States, American foreign policy has alternated between isolationism, or the reluctance to become involved in global politics, and moralism, which dictates that foreign policy be justified on ethical principals. The adoption of either one of these policies has often been shaped and guided by world events.

In this activity, you will read about U.S. foreign policy and consider how a major event can impact the approach to foreign policy by outlining an argument for or against entering World War II prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.



  1. Review the Resources above to learn more about the government's foreign policy prior to World War II.
  2. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Following this attack, the United States Congress declared war, with just one vote against entering the war, and the United States began to mobilize to send troops to Europe and Asia to fight against the Axis powers. But the war had been going on for two years. Until the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. public opinion was overwhelmingly against involvement in the war. Why did we wait to intervene on behalf of our allies?
  3. Use what you learned on the American Government site to identify the arguments for and against joining the war before December 7, 1941.
  4. A foreign policy of "isolationism" means that a country's government avoids military or economic involvement with other countries, pursues self-reliance, and focuses entirely on its own best interests. A foreign policy of "interventionism" means that a country's government will involve itself economically or militarily with other nations for reasons other than self-defense. These reasons could be humanitarian, philosophical, moral, economic, political, or other types.
  5. Draw lots to join Team Isolationism or Team Intervention. If you are on Team Isolationism, develop the reasons to stay out of the war. If you are on Team Intervention, make the case for joining the war. Work with two or three others on your team to craft your argument.
  6. Share your reasons with the rest of the class.
  7. Discuss what you have learned from this activity:
    • Do you think the United States would have entered the war if Japan had not attacked? Why or why not?
    • How did U.S. involvement in World War II affect U.S. foreign policy following the war? How did it change public opinion?
    • Do you think Americans today would support candidates who recommended a return to isolationism? Why or why not?


Key Understandings:

  • Foreign policies are influenced by the accepted doctrine of a time period, which is often shaped in reaction to world events

Possible Answers for Activity:

Team Isolation:

  • The United States is still recovering from the impact of World War I
  • The Monroe Doctrine proclaimed that the United States would not interfere in European conflicts
  • The United States is in the midst of the Great Depression and needs to focus on economic recovery
  • Costs of war are too high, both in terms of the financial burden and lives lost
  • America's interests must come first

Team Intervention:

  • Nazi Germany is an aggressor that will take over the rest of Europe if we don't intervene; the Allies need our help
  • Japan is an aggressor that will take over its Asian neighbors if we don't help
  • If we don't strike first, we leave ourselves open to attack
  • The rise of Nazi Germany and Japan as world powers will threaten the United States' position as a world leader/influencer
  • The United States should take a moral position to protect human and civil rights, regardless of race, religion, or nationality
  • The United States has an obligation to spread democracy to other countries/people

In discussion of the activity, students should note that the United States emerged from World War II as a superpower. Most Americans continue to support the United States' role as a world leader versus returning to the isolationism of the 19th century. U.S. foreign policy today is based on protecting human rights, spreading democracy, and defending the interests of the country.


MLA Citation

"Foreign Policy." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2042779?cid=257. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.

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