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The Enigma of War

Michael Thomas,


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.


  1. Homer, The Iliad,
  2.  Chris Hedges, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
  3. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, The Psychological Cost of Killing
  4. James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War
  5. Strunk and White, Elements of Style



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




Opinion Essay: 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 6 typewritten pages.
 Analytic Essay: Each student should report critically on a work in any medium that reflects on the nature and persistence of war. The reports should be around 6 typewritten pages.

 Research Paper: This paper, emerging from research focusing on a topic connected to the issue of war, the persistence of war and or human violence, 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 10 typewritten pages in length (plus notes and bibliography). It will, perhaps, emerge from earlier papers and/or class discussions

A two-page Research plan/Bibliography (due three weeks prior to 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. The instructor will make an assessment of participation in seminar activities


Michael Thomas Ph.D (Univ. Washington) is an anthropologist and author. An Emeritus Lecturer in the Honors College, Dr. Thomas was a Director of the Conexiones abroad program 1985 – 2014. His published novels include Crosswinds, Hat Dance, and Ostrich. Dr. Thomas was born on the day that the World War II war crimes trials began in Nuremberg, Germany (Oct 2, 1946). During his life he has born witness to the folly and glory of numerous wars.