HSEM 2037V: Under Fire: War on the Western Front: History, Literature, Ethics

3 CreditsHonorsWriting Intensive

The year 2014 was the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, one of the two most devastating wars in European history. In the ensuing three years, there have been on-going commemorations of the major battles and events that marked the war’s trajectory. The importance of the war to the psyche and memory of some of the participants was illustrated when, in 2009 Harry Patch, the last surviving veteran of WWI, broke his ninety-year silence on his wartime experiences to declare that the war had been “legalized mass slaughter”. When he died shortly afterwards, he was given a funeral with full military honors, which was watched by millions on television. Why did this war happen when it did and why, nearly one hundred years later, did a veteran, about whom virtually nothing was known beyond his longevity, qualify for the honors that were usually afforded generals and statesmen? Three years earlier, in 2006, the 306 British soldiers shot for “cowardice” were pardoned. What does this tell us about the way mentalities about war have changed? This course will look at the history, literature, and ethics of the war that was known in French as the “Der de la Der” (the last of the last) and which marked over three generations of Europeans creating a legacy that was incorporated into the national identity of those taking part.

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