Here, two of the architects of the program, Lou Ann Lange and Sarah Melville, both professors of history, discuss the program, its themes and aims, and why it matters now.
Why is looking at war - whether historically, culturally or strategically - important?
Sarah Melville: Since war really is one of the constants in human history, it stands to reason that we can learn a lot about human nature and about how cultures work and evolve from studying it. War isn't going away either. Currently, there are over 40 conflicts of varying intensity being fought around the world. Each of these is the result of a unique set of historical circumstances. Our students gain the skills they need to investigate, evaluate and understand any conflict.
Lou Ann Lange: War is also an incredible agent of social change. No country fights and remains unchanged. Power relations change. Economies are affected. Law, mores and basic institutions change. WWII made America a true international power for the first time in its history. It created a large and affluent middle class through the educational benefits of the GI Bill. It altered the nature of universities like Clarkson. It changed how science and engineering got done and funded.
How has modern technology affected the way wars are fought?
Melville: New technology has always had a big impact on warfare, just as war has often driven the development of new technologies, which have in turn spread to the civilian sector. Think of radar, plastics, rubber, the computer ... . Paradoxically, the field of medicine has also advanced because of warfare. As wars become more lethal and mechanized, wound care, including plastic and reconstructive surgery, has developed to meet new challenges.
How did the idea of War Studies as a program develop at Clarkson?
Lange: The idea for the minor developed over time and was both student- and faculty-driven. Many of us started offering war-related courses because of our own interest in the subject matter. Gradually, older courses were given a new war-studies focus and new classes were added at student request - war literature, the WWII class. One day we took a look at what we had and realized that we were looking at warfare from antiquity through the 20th century. It seemed time to create a framework for students who were using their electives to take war courses.
What is the value for students in disciplines outside the humanities to take a history course on the American Civil War, for example?
Melville: The study of military history teaches many transferable skills: critical analysis, logical argument, expository writing. The material from our classes is relevant in surprisingly diverse ways; business students learn to think strategically by studying military history and anyone can benefit from learning about leadership. Many of our engineers will work for the defense industry. Knowing about warfare will provide a context for what they do.
Lange: Warfare is also about the complexity of human experience. People tend to think that war is synonymous with brutality and horror. There is plenty of that. But the people who have experienced war - men and women - tell us something different. War is destructive and brutal, but there are also moments of tenderness, self-sacrifice and beauty. War is more than battlefields; it has a human face.
How does looking at literature related to war inform our understanding of human conflict and our society?
Melville: Sometimes fiction captures the true meaning of events better than mere facts. That is the point of
Tim O'Brian's The Things They Carried and it is a significant idea for students to explore.
Lange: Memoirs, novels, poetry - these are the raw materials from which students can make sense of the experience of war. In my World War II class, we treat Slaughterhouse Five, ostensibly a work of fiction, as a war memoir. Vonnegut was a POW who witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden. How did he make sense of his own experience? Through literature.
A stereotype of war is that it is a preoccupying interest of men. In terms of students, how does the interest break down?
Lange: Well, there are more men than women in my classes, but war isn't just about men. Since the 19th century, women have done more than sit at home. They have fought, spied, run resistance lines, set up field hospitals, nursed and worked in factories - munitions factories! They have also died doing these things - just like men. Women are not exempt from war and never have been.
Melville: The first time I taught my Greek Warfare class there were no female students. I have seen a definite increase in female enrollment. Women show as much interest as the men now. That war is the province of men is an outmoded stereotype. It's
no longer applicable.
What lessons have you learned from the study of war?
Melville: I have learned an incredible amount about human nature, militaries and how they work, as well as the governments that order armies into action. Most of all, I have come to feel strongly that people cannot afford to be ignorant on the subject - it's not enough to say "war is bad" and be done with it. War is a difficult and complex subject that demands our attention.
Lange: War is not a visitation of the gods or an accident. It's not a force of nature over which people have no control. It is a human enterprise. People make wars, they fight them and they have to pick up the pieces.