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Putting It All Together

Fort Hancock reflected important developments in 19th- and 20th-century American defense. The following activities should help emphasize both what happened in the past and what topics remain important today.

Activity 1: Continued Evolution of Defenses
In total the weapons installed at Fort Hancock cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet in nearly 100 years not one of them was fired against an attack. Was the money therefore wasted or were the weapons possibly the reason that New York Harbor remained safe?

To examine this issue, have students review Reading 2. Then have them decide which of the two Congressmen they agree with and write a short essay in which they explain why. Make sure they discuss alternatives to defense spending. Then have the class discuss their answers, or hold a debate between the two sides.

Activity 2: Protecting Coastal America
New York City was not the only harbor that needed to be defended. As the list in the footnote at the end of Reading 1 points out, the Endicott Report believed 26 other ports needed better defenses. (If students don't recognize some of the places, point out that modern ships were heavier and needed deeper channels. Some 19th-century ports declined in importance because their harbors were too shallow.) Divide the class into teams of four or five, and have each group choose one of the 26 cities to defend. Each group should research the history of the port and draw up a plan, using the Endicott System of defense, that shows how they would have defended their city in 1900. Then ask each group to consider how they would have changed their plans for defense if they had been in charge in the 1950s. Have them keep in mind the use of surface-to-air missiles to protect cities from intercontinental bombers and, later, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs. Conclude the activity by holding a classroom discussion on the need to continually update the nation's defense systems.

Activity 3: Your Community—Defense and the Economy
Often a community or region finds its economy tied to a specific industry. In many areas the military significantly affects an area's economic health, either because of a base or because of weapons manufacture. Have the students research their own community (or region if necessary) to determine if there are any military installations or arms manufacturers nearby. Have them research what has happened to these industries since 1980, when there was first a large buildup, then a significant decrease, in military spending. Have students hold a debate on the following statement: "The reliance of a community or a region on military installations or defense factories is a positive thing."

 

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