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San Francisco Peace Treaty: The Cold War and the Peace Process

San Francisco Peace Treaty: The Cold War and the Peace Process

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Comprehensive Unit
137 pages
Grade Level: High School – Community College
Published 2001
Includes curriculum unit + pamphlet ("San Francisco and the 1951 U.S.–Japan Peace Treaty Conference")

International treaties have played a central role in diplomatic history since the rise of the modern nation state. It is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper without reading an article about international agreements. Since the end of World War II, more treaties have been formed than in the preceding four centuries. Nations have signed treaties on topics ranging from trade to collective defense. As the scope and frequency of treaties in international relations continue to evolve, it is imperative that we increase our awareness of treaties and how they operate.

The year 2001 marks the 50th anniversary of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. As the United States and Japan commemorate five decades of peaceful relations, leaders in both nations have called upon scholars and educators to discuss the peace process with a new generation of students growing up during a period characterized by globalization and cooperation between the United States and Japan. As we revisit the San Francisco Peace Treaty, we commemorate the end of both the Pacific War and the Allied Occupation of Japan.

At the same time, it is valuable for students to recall the historical context of the peace treaty. Who agreed to sign it and why? How was the treaty drafted? What was controversial about the treaty? What issues remained unresolved? Was the treaty fair? International leaders at the San Francisco Peace Treaty Conference faced significant global issues that informed their opinions on the treaty. Events including the Korean War, Mao's rise to power in China, the Allied Occupation of Japan, and the Soviet development of nuclear weapons all played a role in determining the content of the treaty and the postwar world order.

This unit will provide students with historical knowledge of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the global issues that influenced its signatories in 1951. Through role-play activities, analysis of primary sources, and writing assignments, students will develop a solid understanding of the early Cold War era. Students will also learn about the treaty's long-term implications through a discussion on contemporary war grievance-related issues and by reading speeches by American and Japanese government officials.


The following is a brief summary of the organization of this unit.

Lesson One briefly introduces students to the San Francisco Peace Treaty by having them read an American perspective on the San Francisco Peace Treaty as presented in an encyclopedia entry.

Most of this lesson uses secondary historical sources to focus on the period between 1945–51. Students will gain a basic understanding of the chronology of this era and will discuss how early Cold War events might have influenced the San Francisco Peace Treaty Conference.

Lesson Two focuses on primary and secondary source documents and the construction of history. Students will enhance their analytical skills as they interpret sources related to the San Francisco Peace Treaty such as speeches, memos, diplomatic correspondence, and foreign textbooks.

Lesson Three presents the legacy of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in current events. In this lesson, students will discuss the reparations clause of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the ways in which current war grievance issues might be resolved.

Lesson Four focuses on the official viewpoints of the Japanese and U.S. governments toward the San Francisco Peace Treaty. In Lesson Four, students will read the texts of speeches delivered by government officials at ceremonies commemorating the San Francisco Peace Treaty in September 2001. The lesson concludes with a "Trivial Matters" game designed to review aspects of the unit and to illustrate the significance of U.S.–Japan relations.

Unit Goals

Each of the lessons in this curriculum unit has specific learning objectives listed. The following reflect larger goals for the unit as a whole.

In this curriculum unit, students will

  • develop a basic understanding of the elements of a treaty and the role of treaties in international affairs
  • become familiar with world affairs at the dawn of the Cold War and how these events affected the San Francisco Peace Treaty
  • learn to analyze primary and secondary sources; understand how historians use these tools to create an argument
  • examine the implications of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in contemporary international affairs
  • improve their ability to synthesize information and think critically
  • learn to work effectively in small-group settings
  • develop oral presentation and written communication skills