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Posts Tagged ‘The Red Badge of Courage’

This semester, I have been teaching a survey of American Literature course at the University of Florida titled “Narratives of War, 1865-present.” (For the initial draft of my syllabus, see this post. I have changed it since then.)

We began the class with Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry such as “The Wound-Dresser,” Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Each has had its unique teaching moments. With Whitman, it was the complex emotions towards war ranging from near-jingoistic patriotism to his profound sympathy for those wounded and killed on both sides of the conflict. Crane gave us a chance to explore the trauma and transformation of a young soldier whose expectations more closely resembled the fantasies of 300 than the realities of the Civil War. Then, we read Bierce’s short story as the last moments of–to borrow Kilcullen’s phrase–“an accidental guerrilla.”

On the anniversary of the September 11th Attacks, we moved forward in time and for the first time addressed a conflict that all my students had experienced in one way or another. Indeed, I underestimated the extent of their experience. Most were only 11 or 12 when these attacks occurred, so I thought it would be necessary to remind them how scared we all were on that day. However, they too had been afraid. Those who had had been living near or on military installations repeated the same thing: “we thought we would be next.” Some teachers had sheltered them from the coverage, because they had family members who might be at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, or otherwise involved. However, there was sense among almost all of them that something was wrong. Many parents came to get their children and took them home. As I look back at that day now, it was not merely fear that motivated these parents. There was a collective reaching out to friends and family on that day and afterward that was made more palpable in light of those on the hijacked airliners and in the World Trade Center and Pentagon who were forever lost to their loved ones.

Over the summer, I struggled with what would be the most appropriate commemoration of that terrible day and those who died and settled on Paul Greengrass’ 2006 film United 93. As always, a memorial–film or otherwise–is a painful thing. Some students cried watching the film; others were demonstrably moved in class. I lectured more than wanted, which was more difficult than I expected. This film’s teaching moments had even higher stakes than the other cultural works we have studied so far. We discussed the ethical and artistic choices that Greengrass made in representing the hijackers and their victims. It was necessary to explain so much: the cultural and religious forces driving Al Qaeda, the history of Western intervention in the Middle East, and tragic ignorance of pre-9/11 America. Moreover, the class reopened a wound of my own–much less of a wound than so many but a wound nevertheless–and I found it difficult to focus.

Throughout it all, students wanted to understand how and why this could happen. There were the inevitable questions: “How could the terrorists bring knives aboard?” and “Why didn’t someone try to stop them before 9/11?” Regardless of question, no explanation was adequate.

If today’s class was any indication, it will be members of this generation who are the harshest critic of our failure to stop the attacks. It is not that they have forgotten. They were afraid. They were most vulnerable. Most importantly, they were just old enough to remember yet young enough to believe that they had been safe.

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Jeff Withington, posting at the US Naval Institute blog, shared an email exchange he had with Admiral Jim Stavridis on the value of an English major and the impact it has had on his life.  Admiral Stavridis also recommends a “must-read” list for midshipmen before receiving their commission. Well, I have one-upped the admiral.  In the fall, I will be offering an American literature course entitled “Survey of American Literature: Narratives of War, 1865-Present.”  You don’t even have to be a midshipman or an English major–only a student at the University of Florida.

“Narratives of War” will focus on novels, short stories, films, and memoir that deal with aspects of armed conflict since the end of the Civil War.  The course will encourage students to think critically about an number of issues including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder, women in the military, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Arab-Americans after 9/11, Revolution in Military Affairs, and counterinsurgency.

My inspiration for the course was John Nagl’s characterization of American military culture as one of survival in the face of existential threats. That culture of survival permeates all of American culture including the struggles facing various waves of immigration, the GLBT community, and Arab Americans post-9/11. As diverse as America itself, our military faces many of these same challenges.

There are no shortage of texts, so it is inevitable that I will miss some here or there. My goal was to cover a wide swath of historical periods and genres. There may be some changes, but here it is as it stands today:

Week 1
Monday (8/24): Course overview and introductions; reading journal explained

Wednesday (8/26): American Civil War; Walt Whitman, selected poems

Friday (8/28): Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1-75)

Week 2
Monday (8/31): Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (76-152)

Wednesday (9/2): selection, Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “A Son of the Gods,” “One Officer, One Man,” and “One of the Missing” (Available at The Ambrose Bierce Project, http://www.ambrosebierce.org/works.html)

Friday (9/4): Spanish-American War; Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” [Available at http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/kipling.html%5D; Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” [Available at http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_4.3/twain.htm%5D

Week 3
Monday (9/7): No class

Wednesday (9/9): Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat” [Available at http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/CraOpen.html%5D

Friday (9/11): September 11th; Flight 93, directed by Peter Markle (in-class screening)

Week 4
Monday (9/14): 9/11 and Arab Americans; Randa Jarrar, “Lost in Freakin’ Yonkers” and “A Frame for the Sky” (course packet)

Wednesday (9/16): Introduction to Research Writing: Asking Questions and Finding Answers; Group Activity on Topics, Questions, and Problems

Friday (9/18): World War I; selection, Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (3 – 35) [course packet]

Week 5
Monday (9/21): Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (36 – 74) [course packet]

Wednesday (9/23): Ernest Hemingway, “Soldier’s Home”

Friday (9/25): Research Writing, continued: Sources and Citation

Week 6
Monday (9/28): World War II; Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (part 1)

Wednesday (9/30): Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (part 2)

Friday (10/2): Research Writing, continued: Claims and Support; for class discussion, watch the following WWII Disney Propaganda films: “The Spirit of ’43” [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqMVpcbhpqw%5D, “Der Fuerher’s Face” [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZiRiIpZVF4%5D, “Commando Duck” [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H81Nna8fo5g%5D

Week 7
Monday (10/5): Vietnam War; selection, Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Wednesday (10/7): selected poems, Yusef Komunyakaa

Friday (10/9): Revolution in Military Affairs; selected military technology articles; Donald Rumsfeld, “Secretary Rumsfeld Speaks on ‘21st Century Transformation’ of U.S. Armed Forces,” US Department of Defense, January 31, 2002 [Available at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=183%5D; John Nagl’s and Frederick Kagan’s responses in Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife [e-reserve] and Finding The Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy [e-reserve]

Week 8
Monday (10/12): Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1-75)

Wednesday (10/14): Heinlein, Starship Troopers (75-150)

Friday (10/16): No class

Week 9
Monday (10/19): Heinlein, Starship Troopers (150-225)

Wednesday (10/21): Heinlein, Starship Troopers (225-272)

Friday (10/23): 1991 Gulf War; Jean Baudrillard, “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place,” Jarhead [in-class screening]; Reading Response Paper due

Week 10
Monday (10/26): Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; selection, Gabe Hudson, Dear Mr. President; James J. Lindsay, Jerome Johnson, E.G. “Buck” Shuler Jr. and Joseph J. Went, “Gays and The Military: A Bad Fit,” The Washington Post, 15 April 2009, A19; Andrew Exum, “DADT and the Age Gap,” Abu Muqawama

Wednesday (10/28): The War in Afghanistan and the 2003 Iraq War; Colby Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (1-75)

Friday (10/30): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (75-150)

Week 11
Monday (11/2): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (150-225)

Wednesday (11/4): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (225-300)

Friday (11/6): Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (300-368)

Week 12
Monday (11/9): Women in the Military; Kayla Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army (1-75)

Wednesday (11/11): No class

Friday (11/13): Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (75-150)

Week 13
Monday (11/16): Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (150-225)

Wednesday (11/18):Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (225-300)

Friday (11/20): Williams, Love My Rifle More Than You (300-320)

Week 14
Monday (11/23): Counterinsurgency; Spenser Ackerman, “Women Prominent in Defense Movement (Seventh in a Series: The Rise of the Counterinsurgents),” The Washington Independent; Research Paper (First Draft) due

Wednesday (11/25): Montgomery McFate, “The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture”; Roberto J. González, “Towards mercenary anthropology? The new US Army counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24 and the military-anthropology complex”; Montgomery McFate, “Building Bridges or Burning Heretics?”

Friday (11/27): No class

Week 15
Monday (11/30): No class; student conferences (required)

Wednesday (12/2): No class; student conferences (required)

Friday (12/4): No class; student conferences (required)

Week 16:
Monday (12/7): Unmanned Systems; Sig Christenson, “Air Force looks to keep more pilots grounded,” MySA.com; David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, “Death from above, outrage from below,” Eagle Eye, directed by DJ Caruso [in-class screening]

Wednesday (12/9): Conclusion; Research Paper (Final Draft) due

I will be interested to hear your feedback on the syllabus. If you are a student at UF, the course is AML2070: Section 1625. I would welcome any cadets or midshipmen from the ROTC program.

I may require a blogging component to students’ reading journal, because I am sure students will have some great perspectives not only on the works themselves but also the issues we will cover together.

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