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Alan G Gross, Professor of Communication Studies


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COMM 3682W: Communicating War

Humanities Core; Civic Life and Ethics Theme; Writing Intensive

Course Description

Peace, the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides truly said, is a hiatus in a war that never really ends. The American case exemplifies this maxim: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, World War One, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Granada, the Gulf War, the Afghan War, the Iraq War. Only the dead, Plato said, have seen the end of war. 
Despite its interruption of normal life, warfare is a cultural practice like any other, one that varies from historical context to historical context. In this course, we will study four books that allow us to see how the central values of the soldier’s code—duty, honor, country—alter and develop as we move from ancient Greece to modern-day America. We will read E. B. Sledge’s compelling memoir of his experience as a combat marine in World War Two, With the Old Breed; Xenophon’s Anabasis, his hair-raising personal account of his fighting retreat with an army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries across a thousand miles of hostile territory; John Nagl’s insightful analysis of counter-insurgency, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, required reading at the White House and in the Pentagon; and, finally, Michael Walzer’s profound study of the ethics of warfare, Just and Unjust Wars. In these works, we will examine how nations communicate with themselves and with others concerning the meaning of war as a way of settling disputes between and within nations when diplomacy fails.
 Although war is a disruption of our normal lives, it is not an interruption of our need to judge what counts as right and wrong; indeed, war is the acid test of that capacity: even in the midst of organized violence, ethical judgments continue to be made. In this course, we will investigate how nations and individual soldiers justify their participation and their conduct in war. We will look at these issues from the perspective of the individual soldier and the commander; we will also look at these issues from the point of view of the nation. On this topic, we will look specifically at two contentious matters. One concerns the best way to conduct campaigns of counter-insurgency, the most pressing problem in contemporary warfare; the other concerns the best way for nations to wage war in manner least likely to cast shame or dishonor upon their citizens.
Students will have an opportunity to grapple with these issues in discussion and to reflect on their implications. They will come to realize that in matters of right and wrong in war there is a long tradition of reflection, especially by Christian and Moslem theologians, a tradition that reaches meaningfully into our present debate over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; indeed,  they will participate in that debate. To do so is to develop and refine a value central to liberal education: the ability rationally to reflect on matters of right and wrong. Reflection will also be promoted because this course is Writing Intensive. Four essays will give the students an opportunity to reflect on issues brought up by each of the books that are read and class discussion will help them apply their new understanding to current debates over the conduct of war.

Books (All books are required)

E.B.Sledge, With the Old Breed at Peliliu and Okinawa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.978-0-1950-6714-9

Xenophon. The Anabasis of Cyrus. Tr. Wayne Amber, Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 2008. 978-0-8014-8999-0

John A. Nagl. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. 0-226-56770-2

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 4th edition, . New York: Basic Books. 978-0-465-03707-0


Soldiers as Moral Beings

Week 1. A marine in combat I: With the Old Breed: Part I

Small group discussion: What are the military virtues?

Week 2. A marine in combat II: With the Old Breed: Part II

Small group discussion: How do the military differ from the civilian virtues? Why?
Essay topic: Reflect on the military virtues as they are expressed in military recruitment

The Ethics of Command

Week 3. Anabasis, Books I-II.

Small group discussion: What is the moral influence in warfare?

Week 4. Anabasis. Books III-IV.

Small group discussion: How does Xenophon exercise that moral influence?

Week 5. Anabasis Book V-VI.

Week 6. Anabasis, Book VII and “Introduction.”

Small group discussion: What are the civic implications of Xenophon’s conduct?
Essay topic: The meaning of Xenophon’s conduct for the conduct of civic life

The Ethics of Counter-Insurgency

Week 7. Learning, Part I.

Small group discussion: The ethics of counter-insurgency in British Malaya

Week 8. Learning, Part II.

Small group discussion: The ethics of counter-insurgency in Vietnam

Week 9. Learning, Part III.

Small group discussion: The ethics of counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan

Week 10. Learning, Part IV.

Small group discussion: What are the ethical dimensions of the Vietnam anti-war movement?
Essay topic: What is the goal of counter-insurgency? How may it be achieved?

The Ethic of Warfare

Week 11. Just and Unjust War, Part One.

Small group discussion: Does morality apply in war?

Week 12. Just and Unjust War, Part Two.

Small group discussion: Is there such a thing as a just war?

Week 13. Just and Unjust War, Part Three

Small group discussion: What is the status of non-combatants?

Week 14. Just and Unjust War, Part Four.

Small group discussion: Do terrorists have rights?

Week 15. Just and Unjust War, Part Five.

Small group discussion: What is a war crime?
Essay topic: Justifying intervention or non-intervention in the case of Tibet

Grading and Attendance Policy

  1. There will be four essays, one for each of the books in the course. The first two essays   will be 500 words and worth 20 points each; the second two essays will be 750 words and worth 30 points each. The students will be required to revise the first essay, based on instructor comments. On the first essay, students will receive the revised grade.
  2. In each case, students will receive ahead of time a model essay on a topic parallel to the actual essay. The model will be discussed in class.

Attendance will be taken and only three class absences will be permitted.




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