Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Valerie Bayarddevolo-Fine

Author: Valerie Bayarddevolo-Fine

Topic/Era: World War II

Lesson Title: The Rise of Dictators

Subject: U.S. History

Grade Level: 11th

Length of Lesson: 2 - 45 minute class periods or 1-90 minute class period

In the two decades following World War I, most of the world was swept up in economic depression. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, most nations attempted to cope with the problems of the post-war economy and uncertainties, with the U.S. stock market crash exacerbating the problem. The war ravaged nations of Europe had become dependent on financial help from America; however, U.S. economic policies made it increasingly difficult for European nations economies to recover after the war. The Fordney - McCumber Tariff increased the duties on foreign manufactured goods by 25%. Intending to protect American businesses, it ended up causing the Europeans to respond by imposing tariffs of their own. To facilitate European war debt repayment the U.S. created the Dawes Plan which established a cycle of payments from the U.S. to Germany and from Germany to the Allies. It allowed Germany to pay war reparations to Britain and France while attempting to help Germany rebuild its economy. After the U.S. stock market crash in 1929, the U.S. halted loans to foreign nations; the Dawes Plan collapsed and so too did the economies of Europe. This caused dissatisfaction and blame within Germany and Italy, giving rise to totalitarian dictators.

In response to the economic disaster, some nations fell prey to totalitarian dictators. A combination of postwar nationalist resentment and economic hardship allowed military dictatorships to rise in Italy, Germany, and Japan. Though dictatorships arose in other nations as well, such as Spain, the Soviet Union, and Latin America, this lesson will focus on the three main nations that went to war with America.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini led Italy’s Fascist party. This party was composed of dissatisfied war veterans, nationalist and also people fearing the rise of communism and Stalin’s consolidation of power. Italy’s economy was weak after World War I and faced with unemployment and labor strikes which were often led by communists. Mussolini, or Il Duce, established a fascist totalitarian regime with his powerful speeches inciting nationalism among his people. Fascism is characterized by dictatorship, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of opposition and extreme nationalism. Mussolini knew how to appeal to Italy’s wounded national pride, and played on their fears of economic collapse and communism. Mussolini promised order and stability and was not content to merely rule the nation, but with his “Black Shirts” Mussolini controlled every aspect of Italian life and crushing all opposition. (Danzer, p. 736). Mussolini’s rise to power attempted to restore Italy’s position as a world power and in order to prove Italy’s military might, Mussolini ordered the invasion and conquering of Ethiopia.

Italy was not the only nation to lose faith in capitalism and democracy, Germany turned towards an authoritarian leader as well. The Fascist party arose to power in the 1920’s as a reaction to terrible economic conditions and resentment over the Treaty of Versailles. Adolf Hitler, also a powerful speaker and organizer, rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Nazi party. Similar to Mussolini’s fascism, Nazi Fascism was based on extreme nationalism. Hitler used the anger of the German workers to promote his anti-Semitic agenda and enforcement of racial “purification.” Hitler also promoted national expansion and claimed that Germany needed more “living space.” Hitler planned on securing land and soil for his German people and would do so by force. Though elected democratically, Hitler was similar to Mussolini, in that once established in power he suppressed all opposition and ruled with fear. To flex his power and demand for living space, Hitler invaded the Rhineland and later the Sudetenland.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, nationalists and militarists in Japan were trying to take control of the imperialist government. Also plagued by a poor economy, the militarists promoted the idea of needing more living space, and convinced the Japanese Emperor Hirohito that Japan needed raw materials and the only way to get them was to invade Manchuria. Hideki Tojo moved his way up the ranks in 1940 becoming the Minister for War, and advocated closer ties with Germany and Italy. Tojo was appointed Prime Minister in 1941 where he pushed his strategy for empire and taking over the colonies of defeated European powers. It was Tojo who promoted the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tojo had direct control over the Japanese military and was now a virtual dictator and crushing his opposition whether they were more moderate Japanese generals or territories in Indochina and the South Pacific. Japanese militarists continued to expand their empire and flex its militarist muscle. Tojo was similar to the other dictators in his militarism, nationalism, quest for world domination and territorial expansion.


1. Students will analyze video clips of World War II dictators and be able to identify the similarities of the dictators in terms of nationalism and militarism.
2. Students will research World War II dictators and understand what caused the dictators to come to power and measure the dictator’s characteristics on a chart.
3. Students will role play as a dictator and write and perform a speech that exhibits the characteristics of their assigned dictator.
4. Students will compare and contrast the dictators through discussion and a quick write.


Nevada State Content Standards:
Standard 2.0: History Skills: Students will use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision making.
Analyze and inter¬pret historical content from informational tools, including:
• charts
• diagrams
• graphs
• maps
• political cartoons
• photographs
• tables

Standard 7.0: 1860 to 1920: Students understand the importance and impact of political, economic, and social ideas.
7.12.17 Describe the causes, course, character, and effects of World War I, including:
• imperialism
• arms race and alliances
• nationalism
• weapons/tactics
• Fourteen Points
• Treaty of Versailles

Standard 8.0: The Twentieth Century, a Changing World: 1920 to 1945: Students understand the importance and effect of political, economic, technological, and social changes in the world from 1920 to 1945.
8.12.1 Describe the rise of totalitarian societies in Europe, Asia, and Latin America

8.12.5 Describe the causes of the Great Depression and the policies and programs of the New Deal and their effects on social, political, economic, and diplomatic institutions


Materials List:
• Textbook: McDougal Littell, The Americans.
Note: You may choose not to use all of the videos. Depending on your time limits, one per dictator might be enough.

1. Internet access to Youtube for the following videos

Youtube.com, Mussolini Speech on video, “We Love you Benito” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0oZMGtI95s&feature=related

Youtube.com, Mussolini Speech on video, “Mussolini Acts Like an…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9gm5xAjT2w

Youtube.com, Mussolini and Hitler on video, “Mussolini: discorso sulla razza” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsquACisBMY&feature=related

Youtube.com, Hitler video, “Closing Scene from Triumph of the Will”

Youtube.com, Hitler video, “1938 Nazi party congress Nuremberg – Amateur Film”

Youtube.com, Hitler video, “1936 Berlin Nazi Olympics Opening Ceremonies Original Music Hitler”

Youtube.com, Hirohito video, “Emperor Hirohito Review Type”

Youtube.com, Hirohito video, (Title is in Japanese). Japanese language newscast

Youtube.com, Hirohito video, Japanese WWII War Criminal, Hideki Tojo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRRx3viyBp0

2. ipod, to save the video clips and play them in class, flashdrive will also work

3. handouts on Tojo, worksheets (attached on lesson plan)

4. Worksheets (attached on lesson plan) for students to fill out during the activity.


Political Biography: Tojo Hideki
1884 – 1948.
Japanese; Prime Minister 1941 – 4 .The son of an army officer, Tojo Hideki was educated at Tokyo Military Academy before starting a career in the army. Between 1919 and 1922 he was military attaché in Germany and Switzerland. After returning to Japan he taught at his Alma Mater before becoming Commander of the 1st Infantry Regiment in 1929. Tojo became involved in the complex factional politics of the times, siding with the tõseiha faction that promoted technological innovation in the Japanese military. In 1935 he was posted to Manchuria, returning to Tokyo as Army vice-Minister in 1938 and advocating the continuation of the war with China. In 1940 he became Minister for War, and advocated closer ties with Germany and Italy. In October 1941 he was appointed Prime Minister, where he pushed for a "southward" strategy of taking over the colonies of the defeated European powers, and eventually the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1944 Tojo resigned as Prime Minister because of the reverses suffered by the Japanese armed forces and the bombing raids on Tokyo.

He attempted suicide in September 1945 to avoid arrest by the Occupation authorities, but following his arrest he did all he could to exonerate Emperor Hirohito of any blame for the war. He was found guilty of war crimes by the Tokyo Tribunal and was executed on 23 December 1948.

Tojo makes himself "military czar"
On this day, Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan, grabs even more power as he takes over as army chief of staff, a position that gives him direct control of the Japanese military.

After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and the Military Staff College, Tojo was sent to Berlin as Japan's military attache after World War I. Having earned a reputation for sternness and discipline, Tojo was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment upon returning to Japan. In 1937, he was made chief of staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, China. When he returned again to his homeland, Tojo assumed the office of vice-minister of war and quickly took the lead in the military's increasing control of Japanese foreign policy, advocating the signing of the 1940 Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy that made Japan an "Axis" power.

In July 1940, he was made minister of war and soon clashed with the prime minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who had been fighting for reform of his government, namely, demilitarization of its politics. In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with Tojo, who succeeded him as prime minister. Not only did Tojo keep his offices of army minister and war minister when he became prime minister, he also assumed the offices of minister of commerce and industry.

Tojo, now a virtual dictator, quickly promised a "New Order in Asia," and toward this end supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite the misgivings of several of his generals. Tojo's aggressive policies paid big dividends early on, with major territorial gains in Indochina and the South Pacific. But despite Tojo's increasing control over his own country--tightening wartime industrial production and assuming yet another title, chief of staff of the army, on February 21, 1944--he could not control the determination of the United States, which began beating back the Japanese in the South Pacific. When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army on June 22, 1944, Tojo's government collapsed. Upon Japan's surrender, Tojo tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with an American .38 pistol but he was saved by an American physician who gave him a blood transfusion. He was convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal and was hanged on December 22, 1948.
Tojo supplemental information (handout):

Simkin, John. Spartacus International, Hideki Tojo. 16 Nov 2008 http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWtojo.htm

"Tojo makes himself "military czar"." 2008. The History Channel website. 20 Nov 2008, 01:11 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=6719.

In Class Activities:

    1. Handout the worksheets provided in this lesson (titled Worksheet 1, 2, 3, 4)
    2. Teacher will briefly introduce the lesson by reminding the students of the Treaty of Versailles and the economic depressions of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
    3. Teacher will instruct the students to do “Task 1” by having the students find a partner and then brainstorming and discussing what they know about the three dictators.
    4. Teacher monitors interactions within the pairs.
    5. Teacher leads discussion on what the students discovered, students share information they knew. Then class discusses what they want to know about the dictators (KWL)
    6. Teacher explains to the students (or reads from the worksheet): “Before moving on, you need to become familiar a few terms that are used to describe the types of government and leaders of this time. However, before you actually learn the terms, you will be shown videos of each of the leaders, and you will make observations. We will use these observations to help us define and understand the terms later.”
    7. Teacher will show the video clips of the three dictators (Note: some of these are in another language or have been created with modern or cultural background music. You might want to consider turning off the sound so that it doesn’t distract from the image)
    8. While the students watch the video clips, they will write describing words about the things they notice. They will fill in the chart on the worksheet.
    9. Teacher will facilitate discussion on what the students viewed on the clips, students will share their describing words and any other thoughts they had.
    10. Teacher will use guide the students’ attention to nationalist and militaristic tendencies viewed in the videos.
    11. Teacher and class will go through “Worksheet 2” while teacher facilitates discussion of the terms and examples they viewed in the video clips. Students will fill in the worksheets with their own definitions and examples of the terms.
    12. The teacher will review Task II with the students and give an overview of what the students will do next, which is “Worksheet 3.” Teacher will explain how to do  “Worksheet 3” and make sure the students understand the questions that the chart is asking. Teacher should do this by using the video clips and past historical experiences as examples. Teacher should show the students the page numbers on which to find the information.
    13. The teacher will then number the students off 1, 2, 3. Teacher will inform the students that their number corresponds to the role that they will play. The teacher will also make sure that the students understand that they are only researching their assigned dictator, so for now they will only be filling out one column in the chart.
    14. Students will research their dictator in their textbooks.
    15. Upon completion of the worksheets, the teacher will read and explain the instructions for  Task III, on “Worksheet 4.” Teacher should model a speech style as well as bring up examples that the students saw in the videos. Teacher should point out that the last item on the chart (dealing with human rights) should not be included in the speech.
    16. Students use the information in their chart about their dictator to write a speech as if they were the dictator.  Students should make sure their speech meets all of the criteria.
    17. Upon completion of the speeches, the teacher will explain Task IV and put the students into groups of 3 (this can be done through jigsaw technique by getting all the same dictators together and then re-numbering themselves. Then have all the 1’s get together, all the 2’s and so on.
    18. Students will take turns performing their speeches while the rest of their group takes notes on their chart (they will be filling in the other two columns in the chart on “Worksheet 3”).
    19. The teacher will monitor the interactions within each student group.
    20. As a closing activity, students will do Task IV where they will do a “Exit Ticket - Quick Write” about what they learned today by answering the questions in their journal.
    21. Teacher wanders throughout room and reads random Exit Ticket-Quick Writes to monitor whether objectives have been met.


Danzer, Gerald A. J.Jorge Klore de Alva, Nancy Woloch, Louis E. Wilson. The Americans. Boston. McDougal Littell, 2007.

“Definition of Militarism”. 2008. Answers.com. 16 Nov 2008 http://www.answers.com/topic/militarism

Simkin, John. Spartacus International, Hideki Tojo. 16 Nov 2008 http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWtojo.htm

"Tojo makes himself "military czar"." 2008. The History Channel website. 20 Nov 2008, 01:11 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=6719.