The Experience of War – A Sneak Peek

What you see below is a part of my syllabus (its 14 pages) for IHON 257 : The Experience of War that I will be teaching this fall (my 15th year or so of teaching this class).

Objectives of this Course:

1- To intellectually and empathetically engage the experience and nature of war and warfare, entering into a deeper, more complex understanding of war as a perennial part of the human experience.

2- To examine the phenomenon of war from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, exploring the texts, questions, issues and methods each discipline might bring to inquiry of war, with a specific focus on the disciplines and methods of Humanities (philosophy, religion, language, literature and history)

3- To develop a community of scholars who share responsibility for learning via presentations, leading class discussions and collaborative learning activities.

4- To build upon and enhance the skills of critical reading, writing, thinking and research originated in IHON 111/112.

5- To critically identify and examine one’s own emotive responses and ideas about war, their contexts and implications as a means to

6- Formulate and articulate one’s own responses (intellectual and emotive) to the issue of war and warfare, in a way that allows one to vision and act on their own ideas of the place of war in the present and future world community.


International Honors Program Statement 

International Honors is a rigorous program for students who demonstrate an exemplary record of academic and service achievement.  Rooted in the university’s liberal arts foundation, International Honors challenges students to engage the university’s educational mission of thoughtful inquiry, service to others, leadership in public life, and care for the earth’s diverse communities and natural resources. 

The International Honors curriculum is shaped by the history of higher education in the West and the global context in which students and faculty live and study today.  Embedded in the unique tradition of Lutheran higher education, the program claims the received wisdom of ancient classical learning, medieval universities, Reformation schools, Enlightenment discoveries, and the American experience.  Consequently, honors courses introduce students to primary artistic, legal, philosophical, scientific, and theological events, thinkers, and works that continue to shape our contemporary world, studies from the perspective of multiple academic disciplines.

As a distinctive curriculum within a university that challenges students to discover their meaning and purpose through engaged study both here and abroad, International Honors asks students to consider the ways in which their unique interests and intellectual gifts can be of service to the common good.  Through broad and deep learning, students are challenged to consider their vocation as leaders within both local and international communities.



            The phenomenon of war is an object of inquiry that is by its nature both multidisciplinary and international.  War brings together technology/science and politics, tradition and invention, philosophical and religious perspectives, history and utopian visions – all seemingly opposites merging together into arguably the most heroic and horrific of all human experiences.  We will look at the experience of war and warfare through the academic disciplines of history, philosophy, political science, art, psychology, literature, sociology, gender studies and religion. We will use a variety of ‘texts’ to examine these perspectives: historical treatises, poetry, film, photography, autobiography, arguments/debates, music, plays and news accounts.  However, we are not simply examining this phenomenon from academic isolation, but will be thinking about our own perspectives, prejudices and experiences of war and what they might mean for our constructing and understanding of the modern world.  This is a topic engaging not only the intellect, but the empathetic and emotional parts of our communal lives.  As an integral part of the class, you WILL be asked to examine, not only your intellectual ideas about war, but also your emotional responses, their roots and implications.  We will use these insights to formulate a vision of the place of war in the world, a vision that will affect our actions as citizens in the world.


 Class Requirements:

Critical Reflection Questions:  600 – 850 word papers designed to engage the readings and work through the issues before class discussion, practicing the intellectual virtue of autonomy.  In these papers we focus on formulating a specific question to be addressed in the relation to the reading, and exploring both emotive and intellectual responses to the question.  These papers should follow the requirements laid out for all papers in the syllabus and follow the specific instructions in the assignment posted on Sakai under Assignments.  These papers are graded on a +, ü, – scale based upon effort, improvement and adherence to directions. They will be due at the beginning of class (1:45 pm) on the following days: September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 10, 17, 31, November 7, 14, 21, and 28 via Sakai (only under Assignments); you may opt out of three without penalty, but no more than two before mid-term break.  Opting out of papers is designed to give you some flexibility and to accommodate emergencies, so please use these wisely!  Please note that I do NOT accept late papers (for any reason) without prior permission and consultation.

             Essay#1: A  2500 – 3000 word paper that examines the experience of war (focusing on one specific perspective through World War I, e.g. the experience of women nurses in the Crimean War, Muslim warriors in the 1st Crusade fighting in Jerusalem) from an emotive perspective. The paper will be oriented around the following questions: What is the experience of war like? Why? What in this experience can you relate to your own experiences?  What conclusions about war can be drawn from this experience? While a first draft is not required, it is strongly encouraged given the high level of expectations for the finished paper and that you will not be allowed to rewrite after the grade has been given.  (See Essay Guidelines and assignment prompt posted on Sakai for more information.) Proposals due no later than October 12, 5p via Sakai.  Due October 26 at the beginning of class (1:45 pm) either hard copy OR Sakai (your choice depending upon how you want comments returned).

Essay #2: This will be a 3000 – 3500 word paper focusing on one particular question or issue in the experience of contemporary warfare, (e.g. Should the Geneva Conventions be reworked for asymmetrical warfare?  How?)  This paper will use research and argumentation to examine the issue in depth and make and defend a policy and action recommendation using your own disciplinary perspective as a basis. This paper will also provide an opportunity for reflection on the future place of warfare.  You have the option to do your own project (i.e. something other than an academic paper) on some aspect of this or a related issue.  If you choose this option, you are required to consult with me before November 28 to discuss how you will proceed, no exceptionsIn any case, proposals are due no later than November 30, 5 pm via Sakai.  Final Papers due no later than the end of our scheduled final examination period via Sakai.

Movie Paper: You will be required to write a 1200 –1500 word paper to be turned in and informally presented to the class between September 26 and December 7 on one of the relevant themes in one of the movies assigned. This paper is designed to address both the emotive elements of the experience of war, as well as to give intellectual analysis of the issues raised by war, using film as another ‘text’ for inquiry into war.  (See the assignment prompt posted on Sakai for more information.)

Class Leadership: On your assigned day between November 30 and December 7 (see the assignment posted on Sakai and sign up sheet) you will be well prepared to start, lead and maintain class discussion on the assigned readings for that day.  You will be required to meet with me no later than 2 days prior to your assigned day and hand in your outline, discussion questions and/or other preparation.

Class Engagement and Miscellaneous: You are expected to be in class on time and to come well prepared to actively discuss and engage the assigned readings.  More than 4 absences and/or consistent lack of preparation and engaged participation will result in a significantly (minimum 1 full letter) lower grade.  There are also small assignments (discussion questions), guest lectures or small group work that also will contribute to this part of the grade. These will be graded on a +, ü, or – scale.  (It is therefore to your advantage not to miss class since these assignments will be announced in class and there are no make-ups.)

Professionalism:  As a member of an academic learning community, I expect that you will conduct yourself in a professional, charitable and responsible manner.  Whether it is appropriate communication techniques, responding to requests in a timely manner, being a good colleague or effective preparation and completing tasks as assigned, professional skills are essential to being successful in this course.


Crit. Refl. Questions (11 -3 = 8)           15%

Essay #1                                               25%

Essay #2                                               30%

Movie Paper                                         5%

Class Attendance/Participation             10%

Class Leader                                         10%

Professionalism                                     5%

Class Policies: (see also Class Expectations handout)

You should have completed IHON 111/112 or have special dispensation from me.  This class is part of an interdisciplinary core and the concepts, skills and context of the 111/112 sequence (or equivalent course work) is an essential building block to our work.

This is primarily a seminar style, discussion class, and you are responsible to the other members of our learning community, so it is crucial that you not only do the reading, but also come to class prepared with specific questions and comments and actively engage in the class.  Lateness (just like in the Real World) is not only disruptive to the discussion process, but also inhibits your participation.  If you must come late (or leave early), be respectful of the class’ time and space and take care that is does not become a habit.

Be respectful of the class time and space by turning down/off cell phones, beepers etc and refraining from other activities – text messaging, emailing, knitting etc – that are distracting or send the message (intended or not) that you are not fully attentive, committed to and engaged in our learning community.

We will be using Sakai for this course, both for handing in papers and for distribution of course content readings (in addition to the required texts), so make sure you 1) know how Sakai works and 2) check it regularly as I will post announcements, additional material, extra credit assignments and other material relevant to the course and our learning community.

All papers should follow the guidelines that I have set out in the Essay Guidelines handout, (and conforming to the particular assignment) as well as being typed, double spaced and conforming to the appropriate citation style. You will be submitting CRQ’s and major paper s on Sakai, although you may choose to turn in Movie Papers, Essay #1 or Essay #2 in hard copy. 

I will accept NO late papers (Critical Reflection Questions, Essays, Movie Papers etc.) without prior permission and consultation. A late paper is defined as any paper than comes in more than 5 minutes after the due time (normally the beginning of class – 1:45 pm.)

I expect that all students will uphold PLU’s Academic Integrity policy as a matter of personal ethical commitment: “PLU’s expectation is that students will not cheat or plagiarize, and that they will not condone these behaviors or assist others who plagiarize. Academic misconduct not only jeopardizes the career of the individual student involved, but also undermines the scholastic achievements of all PLU students and attacks the mission of this institution. Students are inherently responsible to do their own work, thereby insuring the integrity of their academic records.”

If a situation arises that may impact your attendance and/or work, please consult with me as early as possible and I will be more than happy to work with you.

In the event that classes are cancelled (either due to inclement weather or my illness), call my extension for instructions or check your PLU email.  You are responsible for any assignments or directions I give you.  Unless you hear otherwise from me, the schedule remains as is.

If you require special accommodations for disability of any kind, please discuss it with me and/or the appropriate university personnel before the second week of class.


Required Texts:  (in reading order – more or less, see me if getting the texts is an issue)

Carrie Morgan: The Road Back from Broken (Create Space) ISBN 978-1517637927

Thucydides (ed. S. Lattimore): The Peloponnesian War (Hackett) ISBN 978-0872203945

Michael Walzer: Just and Unjust Wars (Basic) ISBN 9780465037018

William Shakespeare: Henry V (Simon and Schuster) ISBN 9780743484879

Paul Fussell: The Great War and Modern Memory ISBN 9780195021714

J Glenn Gray: The Warriors- Reflections on Men in Battle (Bison) ISBN


Sun Tzu  The Art of War

Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim: Four Hours at My Lai (Penguin) ISBN 0140177094

Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden:  Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism…(BenBella) ISBN 978-193525170-5

Other readings as needed will be available via Sakai

Recommended Reading:

John Keegan: A History of Warfare

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