War in Film and Literature

IHP 200W / English 204-03

Graduate section: POLCR 537

Professor Daniel Lieberfeld

Duquesne University

Spring 2006

Tues. & Thurs., 3:05-4:20, Canevin Hall, Room G-1

Office: 525 College Hall, phone: 396-1851, e-mail: lieberfeld@duq.edu

Office hours: 1:30-2:50 Tues. and Thurs., or by appointment


We will use films and literature to gain insights into core questions about war and peace:
How can killing be sanctioned as a moral act? How do normal men become able to kill enemy soldiers or even non-combatants? How is becoming a warrior linked to gender identity? What psychological price do soldiers pay for killing? What sort of obstacles do veterans face in re-integrating into civilian life? To what extent can combat experience be conveyed through words and images? What myths do societies create about war? How can literature and film perpetuate or contest such myths? Why do people sacrifice in the name of an abstract entity such as “the nation” with which they identify? How does another group become “the enemy”? What accounts for the glamour and attraction that war holds for many people? How does the experience of those on the frontlines of combat differ from that of high officers and politicians who declare and direct war?

Specific topics include nationalism and WWI (All Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory); insurgency and counter-insurgency (Battle of Algiers, Generation Kill); war trauma and its aftermath (Maus, Survival in Auschwitz); nuclear weapons and the Cold War (The Fog of War, Dr. Strangelove); the “lessons” of the Vietnam war (Winter Soldier, Full Metal Jacket, Rambo, If I Die in a Combat Zone); American triumphalism and mythmaking (Saving Private Ryan); anti-war satire (Duck Soup); the media and censorship of images and ideas about war (Control Room); and how computer and video games desensitize players to violence and inscribe gender and racial hierarchies (Game Over).

The course also examines how particular wars, such as WWI, WWII, the Cold War, Vietnam, and the Gulf War, have been understood in U.S. culture. Most of the perspectives explored are American, but the course also includes works by several non-U.S. artists.



Erich M. Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)

Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz [originally If This Be a Man] (1947)

Tim O'Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973)

Art Spiegelman, Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (1986)

Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004)


Paths of Glory (Kubrick, 1957)

Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964)

The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966) -- Note: this film is subtitled.

Winter Soldier (1972, re-released 2005)

Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987)

Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998)

Three Kings (Russell, 1999)

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Morris, 2003)

Control Room (Noujaim, 2004)

Hotel Rwanda (George, 2004)

and excerpts from

The Green Berets (Kellogg, Wayne, 1968)

Rambo: First Blood, Part II (Cosmatos, 1985)

Duck Soup (McCarey [with the Marx Brothers], 1935)

Fahrenheit 911 (Moore, 2004).

Game Over: Gender, Race & Violence in Video Games (Huntemann, 2000)


Students are expected to attend all classes having completed the reading and viewing assignments. Since this is in part a literature course, there is a substantial amount of reading. Plan on 5-8 hours per week beyond class time for readings/viewings and other course work. A typical week’s assignment might consist of watching a film outside of class and over 100 pages of reading.

Except as noted, films will be viewed outside of class. There are three options for this:

1) You may obtain the film at the Gumberg reserve desk for viewing inside the library. Copies of films will remain on reserve throughout the semester. (Please do not borrow the film in the two hours right before class since the prof. may need it then.)

2) You may watch the film at a Sunday-evening screening in College Hall. This way you can see it on a large screen with classmates (and any friends you wish to invite).

3) You may rent the film and watch it at home. Most of the films are available at a better-stocked video rental outlets (but probably not Battle of Algiers, Winter Soldier, or Control Room.)

COURSE GRADES are mainly based on written assignments. A central goal of the course is for students to craft well-written essays characterized by focused and purposeful analysis. More than mere summaries, the papers investigate what the authors of the works have to say about war and what methods they use to convey their ideas.

Written assignments for the course are

A 4-page paper comparing the critiques of war in All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory. Due Jan. 24: Explain what aspects of war each work criticizes, relating, for example, to political lies and the motives for war; to corruption and abuses of authority in the conduct of war; and to the effects of war on participants. Explain what makes these critiques effective or not. (20 percent of grade)

Two papers of about 5 pages each (20 percent each):

1. Due February 28: What are the main challenges faced by the soldiers in Generation Kill? In what ways are they prepared to meet these challenges, and in what ways unprepared? Why? Use specific examples to explain Wright’s perspective and to give your own assessment. As part of your analysis, compare the relations between U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians with the relations that O’Brien describes between U.S. troops and Vietnamese civilians in If I Die in a Combat Zone.

2. Due April 11: In what ways was the Nazi project fundamentally an attempt to dehumanize its victims, and how do Maus and Survival in Auschwitz convey the experience of dehumanization? In what different ways did the camp prisoners that Levy and Speigelman describe attempt to retain their humanity, and in what ways did they succeed or fail to do so? Given the brutality of the camp officials, the indifference of most civilians, and the prisoners’ degradation, what qualities does each author believe differentiates human beings from animals? Support your assertions with specific examples.

A final exam (25 percent). Questions will cover the range of books and films we have discussed during the semester. At least some will ask you to analyze how the works reinforce or challenge the socially accepted and propagated myths about war.

Graduate students will write an additional 10-12 page research paper, on a subject to be decided in consultation with the professor. (Course grades for graduate students are based on 15 percent for participation and quizzes, 50 percent for the three short papers, and 35 percent for the research paper.)


Typed work should be double-spaced with 1-inch margins and either 12- or 13-point type. Please staple and number the pages. Separate title and bibliography pages are not needed. Footnotes that refer to assigned readings for the course are also unnecessary; instead, use a page number in parentheses. Book and film titles should appear in italics.

All quotes should be introduced, making clear to the reader who is speaking and what the quote’s significance is. (When using an indented or block quote, it is incorrect to add external quotation marks.) Please consult the grading rubric on the following page for further guidelines on the papers.


All students are expected to participate constructively in class and to contribute to an environment that fosters mutual learning. Those who are not so comfortable talking in class should make an effort to do so anyway. On the other hand, students who tend to talk a lot in class are responsible for monitoring themselves to make sure that they are not unintentionally taking over the conversation and excluding or detracting from others’ participation.

Please let me know in advance if you are planning to miss class. Students are responsible for finding out from classmates about material covered or assignments given. If you miss more than two classes during the semester your overall course grade may be affected.
Very brief, short-answer quiz questions on the reading/viewing assignments will be given weekly. You have up to two "free passes" during the semester, to use if you either miss or elect not to take a quiz. (Class participation and quizzes count for 15 percent of overall course grades.)

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Using published material without citation or quotation marks as if it were your own is plagiarism. So is closely paraphrasing, or slightly rewording, an author’s published work without acknowledging it as your source. Ideas and words of others that are used in your papers must be accompanied by citations that give the title, author, and publication information of the source of the idea or words. (As noted above, assigned readings for the course require only an embedded page citation.)

In keeping with the university’s policy regarding academic integrity, plagiarism includes “the use, whether by summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation…of the work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment” (Faculty Handbook, p. 81). See also the Student Handbook, p. 11 (http://www.duq.edu/frontpages/aboutdu/student_handbook.pdf).


1. Does the paper’s first paragraph clearly state the central question that the paper will answer and how the paper has been organized to answer it? Or does the introduction consist of hazy generalities without specifying the intent of the paper and its organization?

2. Does the paper go on to actually address, in detail and in depth, the central question that the introduction identifies?

3. Does the author provide evidence for the paper’s assertions by using specific and appropriate examples from the readings or other sources? Does the author include an explanation of how the examples illustrate the concepts in question?

4. Does the author clearly define central concepts, terms, and ideas, or are such terms and concepts left vague and general?

5. Does the author use active voice to make clear who is doing what to whom, or is the passive voice used, leaving vague the question of agency? Tip: Improve your writing by using active verbs!

6. Does the author introduce, identify, and explain the significance of quoted matter, or do quotations just appear with no introduction or explanation?

7. Does each paragraph express one main idea, or do paragraphs mix together several distinct ideas?

8. Does the author provide a conclusion linked to the paper’s central question, as set out in the introduction?

9. Are there multiple spelling and grammar errors, or has the paper been proofread to eliminate such errors?

Schedule of Classes, Readings/Screenings, and Assignments

Week 1: Tues, 1/10 & Thurs, 1/12: Soldiers’ camaraderie, grieving and the dead, political lies.

Poems: Rupert Brooke, “The Soldier” (1915); Wilfred Owen “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” (1918); Siegfried Sassoon, “Remorse” (1918).

Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, first half, 1-136.

Week 2: Tues, 1/17 & Thurs, 1/19: WWI, cont.

Film: Paths of Glory.

Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, second half, 137-295.

Week 3: Tues, 1/24 & Thurs, 1/26: The conscript and the community; gender and war.

O'Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone, first half, 1-114.

O'Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone, second half, 115-209.

* Paper #1 due 1/24. See syllabus, p. 3.

Week 4: Tues, 1/31 & Thurs, 2/2: Training for killing and its effects; truth and fiction in war.

Film: Winter Soldier.

O'Brien, "On the Rainy River" and "How to Tell a True War Story," in The Things They Carried (1990).

Week 5: Tues, 2/7 & Thurs, 2/9: Domestic opposition in wars and the myth of the “stab in the back.”

Film: Full Metal Jacket.

Film: Rambo: First Blood, Part II (excerpts, in class).

Jerry Lembcke, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam (1998), chapts. 6, 8.

Week 6: Tues, 2/14 & Thurs, 2/16: War as adventure comedy; innocence and moral responsibility in war. The ongoing U.S. war in Iraq.

Film: Three Kings.

Wright, Generation Kill, first third.

Week 7: Tues, 2/21 & Thurs, 2/23: Traumatic experience in war.

Generation Kill, second third.

Brian Turner, “What Every Soldier Should Know” from Here, Bullet (2005).

Dan Baum, “The Price Of Valor: We train our soldiers to kill for us. Afterward, they’re on their own.” The New Yorker, 12 and 19 July 2004. Internet: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?040712fa_fact

Scott Shane, “A Flood of Troubled Soldiers Is in the Offing, Experts Predict,” New York Times, 16 December 2004. Internet: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/16/national/16stress.html?ex=1104208085&ei=1&en=57c7a1fd2cd63665

Generation Kill, final third.

Week 8: Tues, 2/28 & Thurs, 3/2: Mythmaking through film: WWII and Vietnam in contemporary culture and politics, video games and war.

Film: Saving Private Ryan.

Albert Auster, “Saving Private Ryan and American Triumphalism,” Journal of Popular Film and Television, Summer 2002. Internet: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0412/is_2_30/ai_90301343/print.

Neil Gabler, "'Private Ryan' Satisfies Our Longing for Unity," Los Angeles Times, 9 August 1998.

In-class video: Game Over: Gender, Race & Violence in Video Games.

Paper #2 due 2/28. See syllabus p. 3.

Week 9: Tues, 3/14 & Thurs, 3/16: Heroism, civil war.

Film: Hotel Rwanda.

Fahrenheit 911 (excerpt, in class).

Michael Moss, “Fatally Exposed: A Mission That Ended in Inferno for 3 Women,” New York Times 20 December 2005. Internet: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/20/international/middleeast/20marines.html?ei=5070&en=914d5271c0cec6f2&ex=1136610000&pagewanted=all

Week 10: Tues, 3/21 & Thurs, 3/23: Satiric perspectives; nuclear weapons and the Cold War

Film: Dr. Strangelove.

Film: Duck Soup (excerpt, in class).

Week 11: Tues, 3/28 & Thurs, 3/30: Intergenerational transmission of war trauma.

Donald Niewyk, “Holocaust: The Genocide of the Jews,” in Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, S. Toten, W. Parsons, I. Charney, eds., pp. 127-129, 140-159. (This reading is preparation for next week.)

Spiegelman, Maus II (entire).

Week 12: Tues, 4/4 & Thurs, 4/6: War and genocide; the price of survival.

Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (entire).

Film: Auschwitz (documentary, excerpt).

Week 13: Tues, 4/11. Insurgency and counterinsurgency in the Arab world; torture.

Film: The Battle of Algiers

Philip Gourevitch, "Talk of the Town," on The Battle of Algiers, The New Yorker 22 & 29 Dec. 2003.

Audio: Algerian Revolution Echoes in French Violence, Dec-04-2005, Weekend Edition -Sunday. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5038459 (in class).

Human Rights Watch, “Torture in Iraq,” New York Review of Books, 52:17, November 3, 2005. Internet: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18414.

Paper #3 due 4/11. See syllabus p. 3.

Week 14: Tues, 4/18 & Thurs, 4/20. Questions of political responsibility for war.

Film: The Fog of War.

Samantha Power, "War and Never Having to Say You’re Sorry," New York Times, 14 December 2003.

Errol Morris, “Where’s the Rest of Him?” New York Times, 18 January 2004. Internet: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/18/opinion/18morris.html

Week 15: Thurs, 4/27. Media and war.

Film: Control Room.

Audio: Fresh Air from WHYY, October 29, 2004, Interview with Marine Capt. Josh Rushing (in class).