Wars are never only waged between soldiers on the battlefield. Long after the last bomb explodes, the traumas of war continue in the intimate memories and scarred bodies of those who fought, and in the nightmares of civilians whose lives were destroyed or irrevocably changed. Memories of war recur in the ongoing mourning of those who lost loved ones, homes, or ideals, and in the legacy of future generations who never experienced war directly. War literature often emerges only after a period of silence, and the cultural meaning of a war often doesn't become clear until time passes. Symbolic battles are then waged over the interpretation of war and over how it should be commemorated. Personal memories and private losses can either contest or legitimate national narratives and public memorials. The memory of older wars often shapes the way new wars are represented. This course explores how conflicts over the memory and meaning of war take place on the pages of novels and memoirs, in the design of national memorials, and on the Hollywood screen and documentaries. We will ask, in the words of a recent book, how war becomes a force that gives us meaning and how war challenges our capacity to make meaning.
This course will concentrate on literary and cultural responses to the memory of World War II and the War in Vietnam, and also include examples from the Civil War, World War I and more recent conflicts, including the present wars. In addition to literature, we will read works of journalism and theory, view films, and discuss controversies over public memorials, such as the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, the Holocaust Museum, and Ground Zero. Authors may include Gwendolyn Brooks, Ariel Dorfman, John Dos Passos, Joseph Heller, Joy Kogawa, Chris Hedges, Michael Herr, Norman Mailer, Bobbie Ann Mason, Ann Michaels, Bao Ninh, Tim O'Brien, John Okada, Wilfred Owen, Leslie Marmon Silko, Walt Whitman, and John Williams. Films may include All Quiet on the Western Front, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Regret to Inform, or Thin Red Line.