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        The Changing Face of War

        In this lesson students watch and discuss videos from the PBS series Women, War & Peace to explore what warfare in the “new world order” means for the millions of people—especially women—affected by today’s intense but often obscure conflicts.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson, students explore how warfare in the 21st century has dramatically changed since the days of “conventional” 20th century warfare. The Introductory Activity uses computer-generated proportional maps to help students visualize how patterns of military spending, arms trade, and war deaths reflect shifting dynamics in the nature of warfare from 1945 through to the present day. In the Learning Activities, students watch and discuss video segments excerpted from the PBS series Women, War & Peace to explore what the “new world order” inaugurated by the end of the Cold War means for the millions of people—especially women—affected by today’s intense but often obscure conflicts. For a Culminating Activity, students prepare brief reports about ongoing conflicts in the world, seeking to establish or confirm patterns based upon what they’ve learned in this lesson.


        Students will be able to:

        • Describe the geopolitical impact of the end of the Cold War;
        • Compare and contrast 20th century “conventional” warfare with the conflicts of today;
        • Differentiate and explain the concepts of  “national security” and “human security”;
        • Provide examples of how the United States military is revising its approach to “winning hearts and minds”;
        • Describe the future of women’s roles in peacemaking and postwar reconstruction.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        (3-4) 45-minute class periods

        Media Resources

        A New World Order Video
        Human Security Video
        Empowerment Video


        The Shape of War Student Organizer

        The Shape of War Student Organizer Answer Key

        For each group of 4-5 students:

        One set of map charts from World Mapper, including (in order):

        Military Spending 2002

        Arms Exports

        Arms Imports 

        Armed Forces at War 1945-2004

        War Deaths 1945-2000

        War Deaths 2002

        Web Sites

        The World at War

        World Mapper


        UN Women: Women, War & Peace

        International Committee of the Red Cross: Women and International Humanitarian Law

        The Lesson

        Part I: Introductory Activity

        1. Divide students into groups of 4-5 and distribute a full set of the World Mapper mapcharts to each group and a copy of The Shape of War Student Organizer to each student.Tell students that they will have approximately 30 minutes to complete their organizers based on information presented in the mapcharts, each of which features a computer-generated map in which national land mass is proportional to the statistic(s) being represented, generating a visual “snapshot” that helps intuitively convey larger geopolitical trends and realities. Tell students that they may reference the included “Land Area” mapchart of the world (which reflects actual geographic land area) for orientation and to better understandand evaluate the proportional distortion represented on the other mapcharts. Note that it may be necessary to help students identify nations, which are unlabeled on the mapcharts. Have students note that the questions on the student organizer are intended to be somewhat open-ended; they don’t necessarily have “correct” answers and are intended rather to provoke discussion and speculation about that geopolitical nature of war. Also have students note that the statistics visualized by the mapcharts are not necessarily those represented in the lists and graphics located below the maps.

        2. When 30 minutes have passed, have groups take turns offering the answers they wrote on their student organizers and invite comments and discussion from the other groups.Use the The Shape of War Student Organizer Answer Key to guide the discussion, but note that the observations and conclusions it offers are not definitive, but rather examples of how the data contained within the charts can be interpreted. Explain that the remainder of this lesson will utilize video segments from the PBS series Women,War & Peace to explore the new face of war in the 21st century, and how the experience women—both as victims of war and as agents of peace—is moving to center stage.

        Part II: Learning Activity

        1. Write or project the following paragraph on a blackboard or whiteboard. 

        “This is an historic moment. We have in this past year made great progress in ending the long era of conflict and cold war. We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order -- a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations. When we are successful -- and we will be -- we have a real chance at this new world order, an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the U.N.'s founders.”

        2. Ask students if they can identify who said these words and what occasion they observed. (It is part of a televised address to the nation given by President George H.W. Bush on  January 16, 1991—the day air strikes began against the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein in occupied Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm.) Ask students what had happened in the previous year that Bush believed afforded the United States an “opportunity to forge…a new world order?” (The dissolution of the Soviet Union had begun, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, both of which marked the end of the “Cold War.”)  Ask students what the Cold War was. (A decades-long political, ideological, economic, and strategic rivalry between Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites and the United States and its NATO allies which never escalated into a full-scale war.) Ask students why they think the Cold War never “heated up” into a direct military conflict? (Answers will vary, but point out that nuclear weapons played a major part, as their destructive power was an effective deterrent to both sides.) Ask students if they think the world has become more or less dangerous since the end of the Cold War. (Accept all answers.) Provide a focus for the first video by asking how wars today differ from earlier, more conventional wars. Play A New World Order.

        3. Pause the video at 2:42 after the narrator says “And when we speak of civilians, for the most part we are speaking of women; women, and all those who depend upon them for sustenance, for health care, for keeping families together as these new wars rage around them.” Review the focus question: how do wars today differ from earlier wars? (Wars have historically been fought between the military forces which generally made at least an effort to spare civilians; in today’s smaller conflicts, the terrorizing, killing, and raping of civilians has become just another tactic.) Ask where, according to the video, some of the world’s more recent insurgencies, conflicts, and wars have been (and continue to be) fought. (Answers may vary, but point out that the video specifically mentions Bosnia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Libya.) Ask students if they can think of anything that these seven conflicts fundamentally share, which again differentiates them the more conventional wars of the 20th century. (Accept all answers before explaining that unlike “traditional” wars fought between nations, these conflicts are more or less contained within one nation’s borders--i.e. civil wars and insurgencies.) Ask how civilian casualties in today’s wars differ from those inflicted in the previous century. (20th century wars killed more civilians, but these casualties were generally inflicted through strategic bombing campaigns conducted at impersonal distances; today’s wars tend to be fought on a smaller scale and kill fewer people, but the killing is done on a more personal level, with small arms, and often by people who may have even known their victims in peacetime.) Explain that earlier wars where also fought by uniformed militaries, whereas contemporary conflicts are often conducted by paramilitary insurgents or guerrillas. Ask students if they think such distinctions about who does the killing, and with what weapons, makes any difference? Why or why not? (Accept all answers.) Provide a focus for the next portion of the clip by asking how small arms have come to be the primary killer of civilians. Resume playing A New World Order.

        4. Pause at 7:57, after Rachel Stohl says: “So women, although they are not necessarily the combatants in these conflicts, are often the victims of these weapons.” Review the focus question: How have small arms come to be the primary killer of civilians? (During the Cold War, both superpowers regulated the flow of weapons to their respective allies, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, cheap and easily transported Soviet-produced small arms like rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles have been sold on the international black market by unscrupulous arms dealers like “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout.) Why has the proliferation of small arms been so difficult to control? (Efforts to impose international treaties regarding the distribution of small arms have been slowed in large part because the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—including the United States—are themselves major arms exporters with powerful arms industries. Even if the larger scale manufacture and distribution of small arms could be regulated, it would remain very difficult if not impossible to stop smaller scale arms dealers, many of whom operate on the black market.) Ask students what type of war this easy access to small arms is helping perpetuate? (Accept all answers, but point out that unlike tanks, planes, and other heavier weapons which require expensive military training and organization to use, almost anyone—including children—can be taught how to use small arms, and this dynamic is further shifting the nature of war away from conventional conflict between national militaries and toward conflict between—and within—civilian populations.) Provide a focus for the next portion of the video segment by asking how, according to peace activist Leymah Gbowee, the United Nations has attempted disarmament in former conflict zones, and how they might do so more effectively. Resume playing A New World Order through to the end.

        5. Review the focus question: According to peace activist Leymah Gbowee, how does the United Nations attempt to disarm populations in former conflict zones, and how might they do so more effectively? (The United Nations tends to bring in outsider “experts” to supervise disarmament, but Gbowee believes that they should be assisted by locals, who know their communities—specifically, the mothers of former fighters.)

        6. Ask students what they think is the most important factor for having and maintaining peace and security in the world. (Accept all answers.) Ask students if they think a strong military is essential to maintaining peace and security? (Accept all answers, but point out that militaries traditionally defend against external threats, and that most conflicts today happen within national borders. Moreover, militaries—particularly in weak nations--have often been co-opted by dictators who use the instruments of oppression against their own people.) Ask students if they think freedom and democracy are essential to maintaining peace and security? (Accept all answers, but suggest that while freedom and democracy tend to promote peace, they are to some extent abstract virtues which may lack immediate relevance in war zones where survival itself is the primary concern.) Ask students if they think that fighting for freedom and democracy is always justified, no matter the cost in lives. (Accept all answers.)

        7. Explain that throughout the Cold War, the ideologically divided populations of smaller, weaker nations repeatedly served as proxies for the nuclear superpowers which sponsored warring factions within those nations with political, economic, and military support—often resulting in years of bloodshed. Ask students if they can think of any examples of such Cold War “battleground” nations? (Answers will vary, but should include Korea and Vietnam.) Explain that following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States armed and funded Afghan mujahedeen guerrilla “freedom fighters” who eventually forced the Soviets to withdrawal in 1989—an event which helped foment the collapse of the Soviet Union itself less than two years later. Ask students if they think this example of “indirect”  American military involvement sounds like a strategic success. (Accept all answers, but explain that being anti-communist did not equate to being pro-democracy, and following their victory over the Soviets, many former mujahedeen used the small arms provided by the United States to support the repressive Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban, which in turn later provided a safe haven for the terrorists of Al Qaeda.)

        8. Ask students what has happened in Afghanistan since Osama Bin Laden planned the attacks of September 11, 2001 from bases there? (The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban government, installed a new government, and is now pursuing its own ongoing and bloody counter-insurgency against Taliban guerrillas.) Explain that the insurgents are in many cases fighting American troops with weapons provided by the United States decades ago. Ask students how they think this war has affected the United States’ national security? (Accept all answers, acknowledging that this is a deeply divisive issue in American politics, but suggest that the war has gone on far longer than either side predicted.) How do you think this war has affected the everyday life of an average Afghani? (Accept all answers.) Provide a focus question by asking what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s observation was regarding the United States’ great strategic mistake in invading Afghanistan? Play Human Security. Pause at 3:36, after Rice says “making the population secure turns out to be very, very important to making the state secure.”

        9. Review the focus question: what was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s observation regarding the United States’ great strategic mistake in invading Afghanistan? (“When the population doesn’t feel secure, it is very difficult to win their hearts and minds.”) Ask students what they think this means? (That “human security”—i.e. the basic freedom of individuals to go about their lives without fear—is a precondition for the more conventional notion of “national security” whereby a “strong state” is made geopolitically stable; the Unites States and its allies had effectively prioritized nation-building over peacemaking in Afghanistan, attempting to impose a democratic system on a “weak state” still very much terrorized by war.) Ask students what womens’ rights activist Shahida Hussein thinks about life today in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Despite the Taliban’s cultural and political restrictions on women, she remembers their rule as a time of relative security when women were at least free to live their lives without fear of suicide bombers or American troops.) According to professor Mary Kaldor, how can the “human security” that Shahida laments be provided? (By protecting ordinary people and establishing a rule of law by a legitimate political authority.) Ask students if they think the Afghan government installed by the United States under President Hamid Karzai is considered by most Afghans to be legitimate. (Karzai’s administration is widely viewed as a corrupt “puppet” government of the occupying American forces.) Explain that, in fact, the Karzai administration has been quite uncooperative with the American military in Afghanistan, which is now looking for new ways to connect more directly with the Afghan people. Provide a focus for the next portion of the video by asking what mistake the U.S. military originally made in attempting to accomplish this, and how it has now changed its approach. Resume playing Human Security through to the end.

        10. Review the focus question: What mistake did the U.S. military originally make in attempting to connect with Afghan civilians, and how it has now changed its approach? (By only dealing with men, the American military had not been engaging with half the Afghan population—the women who actually make many of the day-to-day decisions for their families and communities; it is attempting to redress this problem by reaching out to Afghan women with Female Engagement Teams—or FETs—composed of female soldiers who, unlike male soldiers, are able to speak with Afghan women living under tribal Pashtun law.) Ask students what issues they think might tend to be discussed between FETs and Afghan women? (Healthcare, education, utilities, livelihood.) How might these conversations be different from those between male soldiers and Afghan men? (Accept all answers, but suggest that the U.S. military’s earlier approach to winning the war in Afghanistan concentrated more on finding and defeating insurgents on the battlefield rather than addressing the more basic “quality-of-life” issues the FET teams are addressing in their campaign to “win hearts and minds.”) Explain that a growing awareness of the importance of women in peacemaking and nation-building is not limited to the tribal regions of Afghanistan. Provide a focus of the remainder of the video segment by asking what specific steps are being taken on the international stage to promote women’s involvement in peacemaking. Play Empowerment.

        11. Review the focus question: what specific steps are being taken on the international stage to promote women’s involvement in peacemaking? (The United Nations has passed Resolution 1325, calling for greater consideration and inclusion of women in all peace and reconstruction efforts; peaceful protests are also drawing attention to grassroots efforts by women to end violence in Liberia, Ivory Coast, and other war-torn regions.) Ask students what they think activist Leymah Gbowee meant when she said “When women gather, men get afraid.” (Accept all answers, but point out the patriarchal societies—which remains most of them—can feel threatened by the growing willingness of women to challenge the established order.) What, according to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, will be the central theme of the 21st century? (“Reconciliation.”) What does this mean? (Accept all answers, but suggest that Albright is talking about the need to promote understanding, cooperation, and “human security” within nations, as opposed to “national security” between them, as was the dominant theme of the 20th century.)

        Part III: Culminating Activity

        1.As homework, have students select a current conflict from the list provided on the World At War website to research. Have each student prepare a brief summary report describing:

        • Who the combatants are
        • What each side claims to be fighting for
        • The nature of the conflict (e.g. a tribal civil war, a drug war)
        • Whether one or both sides have outside assistance or sponsors. If so, who? What are their motivations for support?
        • What casualties have been caused by the conflict? Who are they (e.g. military vs.non-combatants, male vs. female)?
        • What has traditionally been women’s role and place in this society? How has the conflict affected them? Are they combatants? Has rape been a tactic employed by either side? Are women playing a prominent role in working for peace? If so, who? If not, why not?

        2. On the following day, have students present their reports before the class. Keep track of key facts and statistics from each report on a blackboard or whiteboard, and use this information to ask students what trends and/or commonalities they see in military conflicts today.




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