Lesson Plan

The Cold War in Latin America: Massacre in El Salvador


This 26-minute video looks at the Cold War in Latin America that extended far beyond the Cuban missile crisis into Latin America. The U.S. policy of containment led to increased tensions with communist guerilla groups during the 1970s and 80s. This sent Latin American nations into turmoil, and civilians often suffered most from the brutality of these conflicts. This activity asks students to examine primary sources, analyze evidence and evaluate a case study within the context of the Cold War in Latin America.

Content Advisory:

Resources in this lesson and the supporting video contain graphic depictions and personal narratives on the massacre in El Salvador. Please have this in mind when using the activity with students.


Students will:

  • Examine the El Mozote massacre from multiple perspectives using multiple sources
  • Analyze forensic evidence to understand the conclusions of the UN Truth Commission’s report on the El Mozote massacre
  • Write a reading response that situates the El Mozote massacre in the larger context of U.S. Cold War policies and actions in Latin America
  • Study the photojournalism of Susan Meislas and collaborate as photojournalists to evaluate the role of photographic evidence in modern historical events.
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • Civics & Government
  • AP U.S. History
  • Cold War
  • U.S. Foreign Policy
  • 1980s America
  • The Modern Era (1980-Present)
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Justice
For Teachers

Essential Questions

  • What were the causes, effects, and significant details of the El Mozote massacre?
  • How can we use photojournalism to understand historical events at which photojournalists were not present?
  • How can forensic evidence be used to corroborate or disprove interpretations of historical events?

Additional Resources

From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El SalvadorUnited States Institute of Peace  
Transcript for "Massacre in El Salvador"Retro Report 
Spanish Transcript for "Massacre in El Salvador"Retro Report 
Remembrance of a Massacre — El Mozote: Foreward by Raymond Bonner, photographs by Susan MeiselasRetro Report 
First-Hand Account: Lessons From the El Mozote Massacre Retro Report 

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.

Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.

Evaluate multiple procedures for making governmental decisions at the local, state, national, and international levels in terms of the civic purposes achieved.

Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.

Detect possible limitations in various kinds of historical evidence and differing secondary interpretations.

Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to pursue further inquiry and investigate additional sources.

Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com