The United States has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost the entire lives of students in high school or college today. Those who have never been to war must base their impressions of it largely on the stories told in movies, television, music and books. Hearing first-hand testimonials of war and considering how they compare to the media’s depictions can be valuable, especially at a time in students’ lives when many may be seriously considering whether to pursue or eschew a military career. This lesson is designed to help students develop a critical awareness of the sources of our ideas about war and what it’s like to be a service member who went to war.
Using video clips from the documentary film Of Men and War, students will see war through the eyes of veterans who returned home from war with PTSD. They’ll compare the stories told in the film with other media they have seen (or played) that convey messages about the nature of war.
A Note to Teachers: This lesson asks students to listen to war stories from real veterans. These stories are graphic and disturbing, and most of them contain profanity. If you suspect that administrators or parents might object to such content, you may want to solicit permission ahead of time by explaining how the lesson relates to your curriculum (and the school’s) goals. POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year—for free! Get started by joining our Community Network.
1 class period (40-50 min.) plus homework
By the end of this lesson, students will:
- write a comparative essay
- analyze at least two different media genres and their messages about war and serving in the military
- reflect on the sources of their own ideas about what it’s like to serve in the military
- be able to define PTSD
- Film clips from Of Men and War and equipment on which to show them
- Internet access for research
POV: Of Men and War — http://www.pbs.org/pov/ofmenandwar — The site includes a general discussion guide with additional activity ideas.
POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films — http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/povdocs/2015/11/media-literacy/ This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
Film Site: Of Men and War — http://www.menandwar.com — The Of Men and War website includes information on the film and how to purchase the DVD.
Project Look Sharp: Media Construction of War — http://projectlooksharp.org/?action=war — This site offers a free downloadable curriculum kit, including easy—to—use media documents and suggestions for classroom analysis of them.
Scholastic: “Should Military Recruiters Be Allowed in High Schools?” — www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=10852 — This is a simple-to-read pro and con piece from Scholastic and The New York Times Upfront.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD — www.ptsd.va.gov — This website provides research, information and resources related to veterans with PTSD.
1. Opening Discussion: Connecting Ideas to Sources Give students several minutes and ask each to write five ideas of what they think it’s like to be a service member on active duty. They should work as individuals to do this part of the activity. To connect to curriculum, you might want to specify a certain conflict and nationality (e.g., U.S. service member in the Vietnam War, Union service member in the U.S. Civil War, U.S. service member in the war in Afghanistan).
When time is up, invite students to share briefly what they have written. Then, as a class, have students generate a list of the sources of their ideas. Encourage them to reach beyond news or personal encounters with service members to include things such as films, video games, novels, textbooks, military recruiters, television commercials, songs and so on.
2. Of Men and War Clips
Tell students that you’re going to add to their sources by showing them clips from a documentary film about U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are recovering from PTSD. Before you begin the screening, make sure everyone understands what PTSD is.
Show two or more of the film clips. Acknowledge both before and during that the clips are powerful, intense and disturbing. They may upset some students and you may want to pause briefly after each clip to let students quietly process what they’ve just seen. Then engage the class in a discussion about how the clips inform or add to their thinking about what it’s like to be a service member. What do they think about what service members are asked to do or see? If you chose to show Clip 7, ask students to reflect on how war affects those at home and their relationships with veterans.
Be sure that students take in the information without overgeneralizing—not all Iraq or Afghanistan war veterans return with serious mental health issues. Nevertheless, the stories of these veterans add important perspective about military service.
3. "Impressions of War" Essay Assignment
Assign students to write an "Impressions of War" essay comparing one of the service member's stories from Of Men and War with one of the sources of their pre-existing ideas about being a service member. The assignment will be most relevant if students choose from a source they actually use/know, like a favorite film, television series or video game. Students who can’t identify or access their own sources might choose one of these: Video Game “Call of Duty: World at War—Mission 4: Vendetta 'Veteran Mode'" - https://youtu.be/l14B3e9LHnk?t=1m47s
Army Recruiting Video: “Symbol of Strength—More Than a Uniform” – https://youtu.be/zRsxBVMwFoU
Marines Recruitment Website: www.marines.com
Novel: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane; chapter 5 is of particular interest – http://americanliterature.com/author/stephen-crane/book/the-red-badge-of-courage/summary
Alternatively, you might assign a comparison between the Of Men and War clips and a curriculum-connected resource, such as a novel or other text that students have read for class, or materials distributed on campus by military recruiters. Advanced students might be asked to compare more than two sources.
Essays should include comparisons of the techniques used in each source, as well as the message(s) that each media document conveys about going to war.
1. Invite veterans from different time periods/wars to share their experiences with the class.
2. Learn more about PTSD and investigate services available in your community for veterans (and their families) who are dealing with PTSD. Find out what students can do to help. If appropriate, create related service learning opportunities.
3. Conduct a more comprehensive analysis of the messages about war typically conveyed by mass media. Whose voices dominate? Whose are absent?
4. Write a letter to your elected federal representatives and/or the president outlining the criteria you believe they should consider before agreeing to send U.S. troops into combat.