What do we talk about when we talk about “war”? Through the course of the twentieth century with global conflict and world wars, the event of war has come to symbolize a universal truth about the human capacity and will to power and violence. In this class, by utilizing the tools of archival research and literary criticism, we will take a distinctly different approach – we will examine how people have constructed and understood war as a distinct historical event. In other words, even the type of war we understand to be universal in its horror and violence is a recent construction of war in modern history.
Our study of war will focus on the conflicts, encounters, and migrations between the United States and Asia from the 19th century through the present. Through the interpretation and mobilization of international and/or immigration law by American officials and military, we will examine four concepts that have greatly impacted the construction of war in the past two centuries – sovereignty, civilization, technology and security. For each element of war, we will analyze the conflict and struggle over the representation of war – both during and after the event. In addition to travel narratives, international legal texts, as well as policy debates, we will read cultural texts produced by Asian or Asian American writers, intellectuals, and artists in order to glean different constructions, critiques, or understandings of the dynamics and legacies of these wars in the trans-Pacific world. What happens to “America” in these narratives? Who talks about war, and how? What is at stake in how we talk about war?
This course counts as a Cultural Diversity in U.S. requirement for the College.