CC 300 G - Perspectives on War

3 Credits
Professor Clausen
TR 10:30-11:45 am

Human history is littered with the event called war, and war continues to shape the contemporary experience.  Although today, we are familiar with the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, and the so-called “War against Terror”, our familiarity is more the product of news media than direct experience, and this in turn alters our perspective on the meaning of war.  As to whether or not nations can wage a “just war”, we tend to think that the answer is up to governments to decide, but that history shows that no war has ever been truly just.  And with regard to wartime conditions, it may be difficult to imagine what it was like in, say, World War II, where the “war effort” had a direct impact on domestic affairs, and where news on the most recent events took longer to transmit.  

In this course, students examine the phenomenon of war by embodying four perspectives on wartime experience.  In the first part, students explore war the perspective of the theorist, whose job it is to debate the norms for evaluating a just war.  In the second part, students explore war from the perspective of the soldier, who offers a first-hand account of the meaning of war.  As students compare accounts of both theorist and “practitioner”, they encounter the moral complexities and ambiguities surrounding war, and develop a more nuanced understanding of its multiple dimensions: moral, political, cultural, et cetera.  

In the third part, students explore war from the perspective of the news correspondent, who attempts to capture the war experience for a third-person audience.  They read about how war shapes the moral imagination by operating as a spectacle and meaning-generating event, often with disturbing consequences for the ideals of peace.  Finally, students explore war from the perspective of the civilian, whose life may be forever altered by the ravages of war.  They will contemplate how their own different experience of living in wartime conditions may be from the experience of earlier generations, and will ask whether or not this signals a change for the better.  

Though this course ranges widely over the topic of war, students focus in particular on the experience of modern warfare (WWII and later), and end by discussing recent attitudes and approaches to war, including the latest development in “drone”-style combat.  Coursework is divided into four writing assignments that correspond to the four parts of the course.  Students are responsible for leading discussion of the assigned course materials, which may include books, novels, and contemporary film.