The term "war" has a number of uses, ranging from potentially lethal violence sanctioned, organized and financed by a state against the armies and power apparatus of a designated enemy to a concentrated effort to achieve a goal; often these two senses, as well as others, are simultaneously operative. Since violence against others often results in reprisals and a return of violence, situations of war often lead to escalation, to use the term coined in the Viet Nam conflict.
Wars, since they involve a commitment from the whole nation, whether fought on national territory or elsewhere, almost inevitably give rise to a collective awareness that quickly becomes part of collective memory.
This course will thus concentrate on how memories of war shaped the events and people that followed, including how subsequent wars were fought.
The impetus for this course was the centennial of the beginning of World War I, but that war in fact is less significant in American memory than others (or than in European countries, where it was so horribly destructive). Though World War I will not be ignored, the course will concentrate on two wars that took place on American soil, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and on two twentieth century wars that loom large in American consciousness, World War II and Viet Nam.