Cold War Political Cartoons Assignment

Ohio Content Standards: Grade 10, History 8; Grade 12, History 2; Grade 12, Government 1; Grade 12, People in Societies 5

Duration of Lesson: Two or three classes / 100 to 150 minutes; up to 60 minutes of research / homework

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will collaboratively analyze and compare editorial cartoons focusing on the roles of successive American Presidents during the Vietnam conflict.
  • Students will compare the positions of various cartoonists with the historical record to determine the validity of their interpretations.
  • Students will determine the extent to which a President's Vietnam policy was perceived as successful, unsuccessful, or ambiguous.
  • Students will determine whether one President experienced a greater degree of success or failure than other Presidents and why.
  • Students will determine the impact of Presidents' foreign policy on domestic policy.
  • Students will determine the impact of Presidents' foreign policy on public perception of the institution of the Presidency.


  • Students will be divided into groups and asked to analyze a set of political cartoons relating to Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Students are expected to judge the validity of the editorial perspectives of the artists in comparison with the historical record. Students are expected to compare and contrast the experiences of the Vietnam-era Presidencies to identify similarities and differences of experience. They are expected to evaluate the impact of the Vietnam conflict on the institution of the Presidency.
  • Students will initially work together in small groups that focus on a single President and his Vietnam experience. During the second phase of the lesson, students will brief their discoveries to the whole class. During a final phase, a whole class discussion will lead to conclusions of comparison, contrast, and lessons learned.


  • Three or four editorial cartoons for each Vietnam-era President (include publication information), printed for student use and stored to presentation media format for teacher
  • "Vietnam-era Presidency" worksheet
  • Textbook and various references on the Vietnam conflict and the related Presidents
  • Pencils, pens and paper for taking notes
  • Butcher paper or similar for graphing team and class main points of discovery (Or other mass presentation resource such as White Board, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • Post-assessment essay guide / rubric

Pre-Assessment: Teachers should use these questions to facilitate a pre-lesson discussion:

  • What is the Constitutional role of the President in making foreign policy?
  • What is the Constitutional role of the President in war-making and national defense?
  • Who were the Vietnam-era Presidents? (May extend as far back as Truman, through G. R. Ford).
  • What are some of the things that might influence a President's foreign policy decisions?
  • What problems might a President face in dealing with foreign policy problems?

Instructional Steps:

  • Introduce the assignment
  • Complete pre-assessment discussion questions
  • Divide class into four groups and distribute Presidential cartoon packets (Groups should not be larger than five students: add more cartoons as needed)
  • Distribute the "Vietnam-Era Presidents" worksheet
  • Guide groups to successful analysis and worksheet completion
  • Review team effort and suggest follow-up research assignments for the next session
  • Distribute butcher paper and markers
  • Direct team leaders to discuss, finalize and record main points
  • Direct teams to brief their main points
  • Critique teams after each briefing
  • Lead whole-class discussion of findings: compare and contrast
  • Solicit questions
  • Brief post-assessment requirements
  • Pass out Essay guide / rubric


  • In an individual essay of about 300 words, summarize the lessons learned from the exercise.
    • Identify and explain at least one similarity between the experiences in Vietnam of each President
    • Identify and explain at least one difference between the experiences in Vietnam of each President.
    • Briefly summarize the foreign policy impact of the Vietnam conflict on the institution of the Presidency
    • Briefly summarize the domestic policy impact of the Vietnam conflict on the institution of the Presidency

Extension Activities:

  • Task students to search for editorial cartoons related to other Vietnam-era Presidents.
  • Compare the experiences of the Vietnam-era Presidents with those of Presidents G.W. and G.H.W. Bush in Iraq


  • Vietnam-era Presidents worksheet

Post-assessment guide/rubric (generate locally)

This cartoon, drawn by Edmund Valtman and published in The Hartford Times, October 30, 1962, is a fantastic cartoon for classroom use.

The symbols used are easily recognizable and that makes students feel much more confident going into a cartoon interpretative assignment.

We have included a copy of the cartoon as well as questions and answers ready to use in your classroom.

For more Cold War resources check out our PowerPoints:

US History

World History

Classroom History Games:

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