Lesson Plan

The Cold War: From the Truman Doctrine to the Berlin Airlift


This eight-minute video helps students understand the context of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan and tells the story of the Berlin Airlift, which shaped the beginning of the Cold War and contributed to the rise of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In explaining the geo-political struggle underlying the airlift, the video shows the desperation felt by the citizens of West Berlin in 1949 when the Soviets blockaded the Western-controlled portions of the city, cutting off supplies of food and coal. Useful for lessons introducing Cold War politics, the video also sets up a discussion about the ongoing value and function of the United States’ longstanding engagement with NATO.

This video was featured in an online class on The Cold War in partnership with The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s History School and Joe Welch, a 2018 Gilder Lehrman National History Teacher of the Year and Master Teacher.


  • How the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan affected Europe and created a showdown in Berlin in 1948.
  • How the United States responded to the crisis with the Berlin Airlift.
  • How the airlift helped to solidify American influence over Europe and contributed to the development of NATO.
  • Social Studies
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • AP Human Geography
  • AP U.S. History
  • U.S. Foreign Policy
  • 1940s America
  • Cold War
  • Communism
  • NATO
  • Warsaw Pact
  • Joseph Stalin
  • Harry Truman
  • Truman Doctrine
  • Marshall Plan
For Teachers

Essential Questions

  • What was the Truman Doctrine?
  • What was unique and challenging about Berlin’s situation in 1948?
  • What were the U.S. and USSR’s competing goals in Berlin and Germany in 1948? How was each country pursuing them?
  • How did the United States respond to Stalin’s blockade of Berlin?
  • How did the Berlin Airlift affect America’s popularity in Europe, and across the world?

Lesson Procedure

  • Since 1815, there has never been a sustained invasion of the United States by a foreign army. Russia, however, has repeatedly been invaded by troops from different countries in the last two centuries. To what extent do you think this difference in national experience may have affected how Soviet and American diplomats assessed each other’s motivations and security goals in the years following World War II? How do you think most American leaders and diplomats viewed the Soviets’ goals regarding Germany and Eastern Europe? How do you think the Soviets regarded American goals regarding Germany and Eastern Europe? Do you think the two sides understood each other?
  • In the years immediately following World War II, President Truman chose to confront the Soviet Union, which included embarking on expensive programs like the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift, as well as the costs associated with America’s involvement in NATO. What does this willingness to spend money on other countries reveal about the mindset of American policymakers and voters in the years after World War II? How was this mindset different from what it had been prior to the war?
  • Founded in 1949 as a mutual defense treaty, NATO obligates all member nations to come to the defense of any member nation if attacked. Though the treaty was founded in response to the Soviet Union, NATO has continued to function even now that the Soviet Union has collapsed. NATO currently includes 30 member nations. The mutual defense provision of the treaty has only been activated once: on behalf of the United States following the 9/11 attacks. Why do you think some Americans want the United States to reduce its engagement with NATO? What are the costs and benefits to America’s continued involvement with NATO? Do you think NATO is as relevant and useful today as it was when it was founded? Or is it an outmoded legacy of a different era?

Additional Resources

Check out the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s History School Origins of the Cold War classGilder Lehrman
Transcript for "How a Cold War Airlift Saved Berlin With Food, Medicine and Chocolate "Retro Report

Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Analyze multiple and complex causes and effect of events in the past.

Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.

Skill 3.A: Identify and describe a claim and/or argument in a non-text-based source.

Theme 6: America in the World (WOR).

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