Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Week 8, the 1970s

10 Nov

IMG_0004A slightly shorter than usual commentary on the Nuclear Cold War class, as I’m currently immersed in marking semester essays for…my Nuclear Cold war class.

In week 8 we examined arms control in the 1970s, obviously looking at stuff like SALT, ABM, the PNW treaty, and so on and so forth. Before we got stuck into that, I had each class split into two groups and – on whiteboards – draw a big mind-map of ‘the nuclear Cold War’ up to 1970. Like the dullard I am, I only photographed the two from my afternoon class.

It was an interesting exercise for all of us, as it really demonstrated the breadth and depth of everything that we have been covering for the past two months. It was very exciting to see how everybody connected things up, what was recalled as significant, what was emphasised and minimised. You’ll see an example of a mind map from the class above right (you ca click on the photo for a full size version).

It’s also good to get everyone up and moving about rather than sitting still all the time. Hopefully, opening the class with an activity where everyone stands and gets involved imbues things with a greater sense of energy.

The wider class discussion focused on things like the mis-management and duplicity surrounding the SALT agreement, whether Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger saw arms control as a means to an end or as an end in itself, and the role of arms control in the ‘death’ of detente. These last two points allowed us to have a wider discussion of what part nuclear weapons played in the seismic changes of the 1970s, both in bringing on detente and in its eventual demise.

This discussion of the 1970s was fruitful in many ways, as it permitted an exploration of the relative significance of nuclear weapons. Like our exploration of the Second Berlin Crisis, we returned to the idea that – as Frank Gavin so succinctly puts it – nuclear weapons mattered both greatly and very little. I think that if this course were to have a defining catchphrase, Gavin’s comment would be it.

Things are not all rosy, though. It’s that time of year when the essays have been submitted, the end of the semester is only three weeks away, and thoughts turn to things other than the threat of global thermonuclear armageddon. The amount and quality of reading done begins to take a downturn. Sometimes, this can be all to obvious and disappointing. I’d like to think that the course would hold the interest of students all the way to the end. Maybe this week, when we look at my own pet subject of the ‘Islamic bomb’ (see here and here for a couple of previous discussions of this topic), we’ll see a return to the vigour of previous weeks.

Huh, that didn’t turn out to be much shorter than usual, did it?

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