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The Enigma of War

Michael Thomas, mthomas@unm.edu

Course Description

Humans have an extraordinary propensity for violence against one another. This propensity, while not technically unique to humans, still sets us apart from our animal peers. The ubiquity and scale of human violence is something special. A visitor from another planet would certainly conclude that humans are obsessed with violence, torture, and murder. The societal expression of this capacity is war. One could argue that war has always been maladaptive but until the invention of nuclear weapons, the issue was unresolved, open to debate. Since the development of these weapons, however, it's become clear. War, given the potential for escalation to the nuclear level, is a threat the survival of the human species (and probably many other specie as well). No one understands with certainty the reasons that war is so ubiquitous and pervasive in the history of humanity. The imperative for this understanding is obvious. Students in this class will use the tools of their major disciplines in an inquiry into the enigma of war and its inexplicable persistence.

Readings and Texts

Homer, The Iliad 
Chris Hedges, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning 
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, The Psychological Cost of Killing 
James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War 
Extended Readings will depend upon the direction student inquiry suggests. 
Students should use The Elements of Style by W. Strunk and E.B.White and a style manual appropriate to their major (the MLA style manual, for example). 

Films and Other Course Materials

Robert Gardener, DEAD BIRDS 
Errol Morris, THE FOG OF WAR - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamera

Student Requirements

Opinion Essay: The fact that no one understands just how it is that violence is so endemic to human beings means that theories addressing the issue are controversial. Each student should compose an essay analyzing asserting and supporting an opinion he/she holds connected to the issue of the nature and persistence of war and/or human violence. This essay should be around 5 typewritten pages in length. 

Analytic Essay: Each student should report critically on a work that reflects on the nature and persistence of war in any medium. The reports should be around 5 typewritten pages in length. The work might, perhaps, connect to an area of the student’s research interest and might, therefore, serve as a source for the research project students will undertake as the semester progresses. 

Research Paper: This paper should report on: 1) an ample exploration of an idea engaged by at least one of the assigned authors or 2) an exploration of an issue that has emerged in class discussion. The report should be around 8 typewritten pages in length (plus notes and bibliography). It will, perhaps, emerge from earlier papers and/or class discussions. A one page research plan/bibliography will be due several weeks prior to the due date for the paper. 

Research Presentation: Students will make brief reports on their research projects to the class at large. These presentations should mimic the form of research presentations that professional researchers deliver to peer groups at research conferences or colloquia organized for the purpose 

Seminar Participation: This is a discussion based seminar. In UHP seminars, we expect students to participate in all seminar activities. Since this is a discussion class, attendance is crucial. We expect students to arrive in a timely manner, attend all sessions, maintain courtesy and decorum in demeanor, participate in all discussions.

About the Instructor

Dr. Thomas has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Washington. His father was an aviator in WWII and Dr. Thomas was born just after the war on the day that war crime trials began in Nurmberg. War has been perpetual during his entire life. He has devoted much contemplation and attention to the human condition and war as an unhappy and enigmatic aspect of human life.