Battling for Your Interpretation - How the U.S. Portrays Key Battles

This ninety-minute lesson uses German propaganda referenced in the ABMC Blue Book and an article from The Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, to review the skill of distinguishing fact and opinion. Students compare descriptions of America’s role in the war from the Blue Book and The Stars and Stripes to develop a fuller picture of the value of American contributions to the fight. Students practice close reading of primary sources while they learn more about American contributions to the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

Guiding Questions

  • How can students use the ABMC Blue Book to practice close reading of written sources and historical thinking skills such as identifying fact, opinion, and perspective in order to develop a richer understanding of the United States’ role in World War I?
  • What was American morale like in World War I, and how did this impact the outcome of the Meuse- Argonne offensive?
  • How trustworthy are military-published descriptions of wartime events? Is an independent media necessary?
  • How important was American involvement in events like the St. Mihiel offensive, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the battle for Montfaucon hill, and the armistice to the outcome of the war?

Learning Outcomes

The student will be able to:

  • Identify fact, opinion, and perspective in two sources about United States soldiers’ motives for fighting in World War I.
  • Describe United States soldiers’ motives for fighting in World War I.
  • Compare two sources describing key battles and events from U.S. involvement in World War I.
  • Evaluate the importance of U.S. involvement in the St. Mihiel offensive, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the battle for Montfaucon Hill, Sgt. Alvin York’s story, and the armistice.

Pre-activities

  • Post or project the following quote for students to read and discuss, or respond in writing for a warm-up activity.
    • “The readers are mainly the men who have been honored by being the first contingent of Americans to fight on European soil for the honor of their country. . . . The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American Army and the American people from whom the Army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it” –General John Pershing (Library of Congress 2013)
  • Ask students to identify the purpose and audience for The Stars and Stripes. How do they think this will affect what they see written here? Teachers should explain that this activity will give the students some background into The Stars and Stripes, a newspaper written by soldiers for soldiers from February 1918 to June 1919. Digital copies of this newspaper are available via the Library of Congress and provide insight into the minds of the servicemen fighting in France during World War I. The paper was completely written and published by members of the American Expeditionary Force, in France.

Activities

  • Divide students into pairs and have them each read the two articles on the “Why Fight?” handout independently, reading one and then switching with their partners.
  • Ask students to work together to identify the facts and opinions in each text, using different colored highlighters if desired. To check for understanding, compare student answers to the key.
  • In pairs, have students complete the worksheet “Stars and Stripes: American Propaganda?” for each article. To check for understanding, compare student answers to the key.
  • Discuss questions D, E, and F as a whole class. Emphasize the idea that although written as “news,” the report in The Stars and Stripes could have other motives. Connect this to ideas about American morale and the psychological boost that fresh American soldiers arriving had on the Allies.
  • Explain to students that they will now use articles from The Stars and Stripes together with the ABMC Blue Book, to work on comparing, synthesizing, and corroborating information. Students will research the experiences of soldiers at various points during the Meuse-Argonne offensive and compare the descriptions that they find in order to develop a more complete pictures of the war. As a class, skim through the preface to the Blue Book and discuss the questions on the “Battling Interpretations” worksheet.
  • How does this compare to the purpose and audience of The Stars and Stripes? Discuss question #4 as a group. Teachers should note that this text, written after the war, has less emotion coloring its descriptions and its authors had more access to information about what was happening at the time, as opposed to one soldier’s or company’s perspective.
  • Divide the class into five groups based on the chart in the materials section (St. Mihiel offensive, Meuse-Argonne offensive, battle for Montfaucon Hill, Sgt. Alvin York, and The Armistice). Give each group the appropriate readings and have them work to complete the Battling Interpretations worksheet.
  • Have one student from each group place their event on a large timeline on the board in front of the classroom. Have a representative from each group share what happened during the event and how it helps us answer the question: How did this event reflect the importance of Americans’ involvement in the war? If time, ask students to rank the events based on America’s role and based on the impact on the end of the war. Which events were we most involved in and which were we least involved in? Which had the greatest impact and which had the least impact?

Assessment

Assess students based on the worksheets, class discussion, and timeline.

Modifications/Extensions

Ask students to consider how an article on one of the above topics might differ, depending on its audience. How would one written for the German newspapers look? For the American public? What would be added or left out?

Compare this written propaganda to recruitment posters from the Committee for Public Information during World War I. How does the audience for each differ? Does that change the approach or message of each work?

Create "super" groups that incorporate one student who looked at each article. Ask them to develop a "Style Guide" for each main text, The Blue Book and The Stars and Stripes. What kinds of advice would they give to authors who wanted to contribute? What should the topic and tone of articles be like? Who do they think is the main audience for each? Which source is better for studying the experience of soldiers? The impact of battles? For aspiring military leaders?

Advanced students could work beyond the articles referenced here, searching the digital archives and the digitized Blue Book for more reports on the events mentioned.

Teacher Planning

Time Required

90 minutes

Materials Needed

“Why Fight” Worksheet
“Stars and Stripes” Worksheet
“Battling Interpretations”
Worksheet

Readings for Groups:

  • St. Mihiel Offensive – Stars and Stripes; Blue Book p. 106, paragraph beginning with "The St. Mihiel salient..." to page 112.
  • Midway through the Meuse-Argonne Offensive – Stars and Stripes; Blue Book p. 232-235, beginning with "The Hindenburg line in this region..." to "The Army prepared..."
  • Battle for Montfaucon Hill - Stars and Stripes; Blue Book p. 205-209, beginning with "This hill, an extremely important feature..." and ending at Part II.
  • Sgt. Alvin York – Stars and Stripes; Blue Book p.228-230, beginning with "On the night of October 6th..." to "Medal of Honor."
  • The Armistice – Stars and Stripes; Blue Book p. 191-192, beginning with "Late on November 9,...", and p. 507-508 section on the German armistice