2022 Theme Narrative:
Debate and Diplomacy
Throughout the 2021–2022 academic year, National History
Day (NHD) students will explore the theme of Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences. Some topics might be stories of debate and diplomacy,
while others might cover debate with little diplomatic effort
or diplomacy without debate. Students must investigate
to determine whether one or both of those themes are
present in their narrative.
Think of debate and diplomacy as a chess game. Several
pieces are on the board, each with its unique talents and
abilities. Some moves are aggressive and designed to
advance the player one step closer to checkmate. Other
actions involve the sacrifice of certain game pieces to
Debates are formal or informal meetings where people
argue opposing views. Some debates involve two
sides, while others involve three (or more) perspectives. Diplomacy usually involves negotiating, compromising, and
communicating with people or nations to find a nonviolent
solution. Debate and diplomacy can occur independently or
be intertwined. Can diplomacy lead to new debates? Can
debates lack diplomacy?
Students must also consider the successes, failures,
and consequences of debates or diplomatic exchanges.
Were they successful, and for how long? Did they fail to
resolve the issues or have unintended consequences? It is
important to consider the short-term and long-term impact
of different events or exchanges on history. Students need
to determine the legacies and consequences, good and
bad, of the debates and diplomatic actions they choose.
They must ask questions about successes, failures, and
consequences to drive analysis. What do we consider a
successful debate or diplomatic endeavor? Can a failure
turn into a success or vice versa?
In the study of debate and diplomacy, key moments stand
out, such as the Iran-Contra Affair (1985–1987), the Lincoln Douglas debates (1858), or U.S. neutrality during the
Great War (1914–1918). But what other instances of debate
and diplomacy have defined international relationships,
brokered or ended peace, and helped us better understand
Consider the many different topics surrounding the Cold
War (1947–1991). The Cold War exposed many social and
cultural issues in the Soviet Union and the United States.
Students might explore the Berlin Blockade (1948-1949), the
Cold War’s first crisis. Soviet Premier Josef Stalin blocked
U.S., French, and British railway, road, and water access into
West Berlin, hoping the western powers would surrender
the city. What was the initial impact of this action? How
might the events have launched the U.S. and its allies
into another war? How did this crisis affect the diplomatic
relationship between western powers and the Soviet
Union? Students might explore other Cold War topics such
as the Truman Doctrine (1947), the Korean War (1950-1953),
the Kitchen Debates (1959), or the Cuban Missile Crisis
(1962). Who was involved? Were these events instances of
successful diplomacy, or were they diplomatic failures? How
did their success or failure affect the relationship between
the Western and Eastern blocs during the Cold War?
Others might look at how New Zealand established
itself as a diplomatic force during World War II and its
active involvement in building the United Nations (1945).
Before World War II, New Zealand maintained only one
foreign outpost in London, England. What changed for
New Zealand? What new alliances did New Zealand
establish? How did treaties involving New Zealand, such
as the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States)
Defence Treaty in 1951 and SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty
Organization) in 1954, influence New Zealand’s status as
a world power? Why did New Zealand seek to establish
relationships with the United States, Canada, and Asian
countries? What happens when diplomatic relations fail? Following
the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech
Republic and Slovakia) in 1938, British Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain few to Berchtesgaden, Germany,
to meet German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain’s
goal was to appease Hitler and de-escalate the growing
unrest in Europe. What diplomatic agreement resulted from
this meeting? What happened when actors involved no
longer wished to follow the guidelines set forth? What was
the impact on Czechoslovakia? What were the ultimate
consequences of appeasement? How did it set in motion a
domino effect that led to World War II?
Students might look at diplomatic challenges that have
reappeared throughout history. Following World War I,
President Woodrow Wilson proposed a League of Nations.
Why did President Wilson develop the League? Was it
successful, or did it fail? Did the League have power on a
world scale? How was the League diferent from the United
Nations established in 1945? What patterns or trends do we
notice in diplomatic exchange?
Students interested in Asia might explore the tensions
between China and Japan throughout history. How has the
relationship between these two nations changed over time?
Consider the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) or the
Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). Did these wars
lead to diplomatic relationships between the two countries?
Were they successful, or did they fail?