American Portraits

The Courage of General Anthony McAuliffe at Bastogne

In this lesson, students will learn about the life of General Anthony McAuliffe. They will examine his courageous stand during the Battle of the Bulge and its impact on the Allied war effort. Using this example, students will learn how they can be courageous in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

It was the worst winter in living memory. Cold winds swept down from the north, enveloping the continent of Europe in a thick blanket of snow and ice. Exhausted Allied troops were stretched across the length of the eastern border of France. For six months, they had fought bitterly to gain a foothold in Europe, suffering thousands upon thousands of casualties. It was nearing the end of the third year of the war for the United States, and the prospect of yet another Christmas away from home was on the minds of the men in the cold and muddy foxholes all along the front. They relaxed despite the miserable conditions, believing no army would attack in such weather….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you act courageously in the face of the unknown?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear in order to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the life of General Anthony McAuliffe. They will examine his courageous stand during the Battle of the Bulge and its impact on the Allied war effort. Using this example, students will learn how they can be courageous in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze General Anthony McAuliffe’s role in the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Students will understand how they can be courageous in their own lives.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of courage in their own lives.

Background

The Allies had invaded North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, before launching the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. By December of 1944, the Allied armies had fought their way off the beaches of Normandy to the eastern borders of France and Belgium. To the south, Allied troops had knocked Italy out of the war and landed another large force in the south of France. To the east, the Soviet armies were advancing steadily, driving German forces further and further back toward Berlin. It seemed to most observers that it was just a matter of time before the Nazis were finally defeated.

As winter settled in in the west, there was a temporary lull in the fighting when Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of the Allied Forces, rested his troops and shored up his supply lines. These supply lines were extremely thin. Due to destruction to France’s infrastructure during the German occupation and retreat, the Allied armies were still completely dependent upon deep-water ports on the English Channel. One of the most important of these was Antwerp, located in Belgium. These ports were now many miles behind the lines. However, all seemed secure as harsh winter weather was expected to bring a halt to military operations.

In this, German planners saw an opportunity. If they could secretly mass a large offensive in the west and punch through the thinly held Ardennes region of the Allied line and capture Antwerp, they could divide the Allied armies and cut their supply lines, making them ineffective as fighting units. With this accomplished, the Germans could drive the Allies out of Europe, or at the very least negotiate peace. It was a desperate gamble. On Hitler’s orders, German planners gathered what reserves they could and prepared to attack.

Vocabulary

  • Enveloping
  • Division
  • Normandy
  • Holland
  • Ominous
  • Tenacious
  • Annihilation
  • Epitomize

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was General McAuliffe’s role in the Battle of the Bulge?
  • Why was it necessary for General McAuliffe to hold the city of Bastogne?
  • What do General McAuliffe’s actions say about his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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