History 188/History 172: World War II

Course Description

This course focuses on the global conflict of 1939-1945, described by one scholar as “the largest single event in human history, fought across six of the world’s seven continents and all its oceans.”

It is not a “military history” course.  That is, we will not be concentrating primarily on the intricacies of military weaponry, tactics, and strategy.  Rather, I have conceived this course as broadly as possible, as a multidisciplinary exploration of the war’s campaigns, how they were experienced by those who lived through them, and how they changed world history.

Throughout the semester I will pay special attention to the complex moral dimensions of the conflict, which constitute an area of particular interest to me as a scholar.The Second World War was a time of extremes.  It confronted human beings – leaders like Churchill and Eisenhower, soldiers fighting in the jungle, civilians on the home front – with desperate situations that required tough moral choices.  I will invite students to explore with me the radically divergent ways in which people in the 1940s responded to those extreme situations, and to reflect on what their choices and actions revealed about human nature.  In this sense, we will not only be studying the history of the war, but also grappling with the deeper philosophical questions that the war raised.

We will rely partly on films and other audiovisual sources, as well as on regular class discussions in separate weekly sections. Our readings and assignments will take us into the origins and causes of the war, the six years of military campaigns, the politics and diplomacy of war-making, race as a factor shaping the war in Europe and Asia, the impact of scientific and technological innovations, the social and economic aspects of the struggle, its profound moral and psychological implications, as well as the enduring legacy of this epochal outbreak of violence.

Please note: this course is numbered 172, but this does not mean it is an introductory course, or a “lower-level” course.  The Vanderbilt History department does not number any of its courses according to a scale of how “difficult” or “challenging” they are.  This class is about equally as demanding as any other 100-level or 200-level History course.  A considerable amount of reading and written work is assigned – a feature that is typical of most Vanderbilt History courses.

Contact Information

Michael Bess, 208 Benson Hall.  Phone: 322-3340.  Email: michael.d.bess@vanderbilt.edu.

Bess web page: http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/history/michaelbess/homepage

TA contact information:

• Michell.chresfield@vanderbilt.edu

• Amy.s.gant@vanderbilt.edu

• Robert.m.gibson@vanderbilt.edu

• Sonya.l.hood@vanderbilt.edu

• Ashish.koul@vanderbilt.edu

• Sonja.g.ostrow@vanderbilt.edu

Readings

* Textbook: John Keegan, The Second World War (Penguin, 2005)

* Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (Norton, 1995)

* Yoshida Mitsuru, Requiem for Battleship Yamato (Naval Institute Press, 1985)

* Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (Vintage, 2006)

* Course Class Pack (available at Campus Copy in Rand Hall)

* Additional readings on electronic reserve on OAK.

[All these books are on 2-hour reserve at the Central Library.]

Examinations, Assignments, Grading

Late to class: Please do not arrive late to class.  I find this distracting and disruptive.  If for some reason you are delayed in getting to class, please do not enter the room after class has begun: instead, I encourage you to come see me during office hours after class, so I can give you my lecture notes or help you figure out a way to make up what you missed.

No laptops, cell phones, or other electronic devices: I have conducted surveys of my undergraduate students and have determined that many of them find it distracting when other students have their laptops or iPads up and running during a lecture class.  I therefore ask that you not open up your laptop or other such device during class and that you not only silence your cell phone but also refrain from using your cell phone in any way during class.  This includes texting, even if all sounds are turned off.  Students having a special need for laptop use during class should come see me to make the appropriate arrangements.

Reading: Each week’s assigned readings should be finished before the Monday class meeting for that week.  For materials on electronic reserve, go to the Vanderbilt web page and click on OAK.  Then login and click on History 172.

Please be sure to keep up with the Overy reading as the weeks go by.  Otherwise you will not get as much out of the course, week to week, and also find yourself with the entire Overy book to read in preparation for the final exam (which features an essay question on the Overy book).

Written work: The course entails three short essays: a 5-page “oral history” report on an interview you will hold with someone who lived through the war; a 6-8 page essay on the Stalingrad and Yamato reading; and a 2-page reflection essay on what you have learned in the course.  These assignments are described in detail in your class pack; they will be due at the beginning of class on the dates specified on the course schedule below.  Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day; my policy on late assignments is set forth in the class pack.

Discussion sections: The weekly section meetings offer students an opportunity to discuss with each other and with the teaching fellows some of the major issues raised in the lectures and readings.  Discussions will focus on the themes of each week’s lectures and reading assignment.  Students will be expected to have completed each week’s reading before the discussion section meets.

Since these section meetings are an essential part of the course, grades will be given for participation in discussions.  Before each discussion section meets you will be required to write up a brief quiz, typed single-spaced, following the instructions set forth in the class pack.  Please bring this completed quiz with you to the discussion section.  At the beginning of each discussion section your TA will collect these quizzes, which will focus on the readings (or films) specifically assigned for discussion section for that week.  Each quiz will be worth 1 percent of your total grade in the course; the quiz grade is separate and distinct from the discussion participation grade.  I describe these quizzes in greater detail in the Exam section of the class pack.

If you miss a discussion section through an unexcused absence, you may not make up the quiz at a later date.  At the end of the semester, your single lowest quiz grade, and your single lowest weekly discussion score, will be canceled.  Your total quiz grade will be the average of the remaining twelve quiz scores.  Similarly, your total discussion grade will be the average of the remaining twelve weekly discussion scores.

Your total quiz grade will be worth 12% of your final grade in the course.  Your total discussion grade will be worth 8% of your final grade in the course.

Exams: I will hold an in-class midterm during the seventh week of the course, and a comprehensive final exam covering the entire course.  Please bring one blue book for the midterm and two for the final (not for the quizzes).  The quizzes and the exams are described in detail in your class pack.  The final exam will feature (among other elements) an essay question on the Overy book.  All the essay questions for the midterm and final exam are presented in the class pack.

Map quiz (Week 4): in addition to the regular quiz in your discussion section in Week 4, I will also be holding a map quiz during that discussion section.  For the map quiz I will ask you to identify major WWII sites on a global map.  Details are available in the class pack.

The quizzes, midterm, and final exam must be taken in class on the date specified.  Unless you have made prior arrangements with Prof. Bess, or have a medical excuse, these tests may not be made up at a later date.

If you are taking the class pass-fail, a final semester grade of D- (or 60) is sufficient for a passing grade.  However, you must take (and pass) the final exam in this course, regardless of how many points you have in the course up to the final exam.  I do not allow pass-fail students to skip or flunk the final exam.

Grade Percentages

Semester final grades will be determined according to the following percentages:

– Discussion section participation: 8%

– Weekly section hand-in quizzes: 12 x 1 point each = 12%

– Map quiz: 3%

– Midterm: 18%

– Oral history report (5 pages): 13%

– Essay on Stalingrad and Yamato reading (6-8 pages): 18%

– Essay on “What Have I Learned?” (2 pages):  5%

– Final exam, 23%

Grade Enhancement Option

Students in History 172 are allowed the opportunity to try to improve the grade they got on the midterm by writing an optional 4-page essay on the arguments presented by Bess in chapter 12, “Generations Under  A Shadow,” of Choices Under Fire.  Thus, the theme of the essay will be: “The Long-Term Legacy of Hiroshima: Solving Conflicts in a World of Weapons of Mass Destruction.”  Details of this option are set forth in your class pack.

The maximum amount that this option can improve your grade will be 10 points.  For example, a student who gets an 81 (B-) on the midterm can submit the optional 4-page essay, and potentially increase his or her credit for the midterm exam to a 91 (A-).  The maximum enhancement can go above 100: thus, a student who gets a 95 (A) on the midterm can still potentially increase his or her credit to 105.  A student does not automatically get the full 10 points: the grade-enhancement essay will be assessed according to the same criteria as a regular written assignment.  You can hand in these grade enhancement essays at any time in the semester, but not later than Friday in Week 14.

Honor Code

All assignments, quizzes, and examinations for this course will be governed by Vanderbilt’s honor code.  Please read carefully the description of the honor code in the student handbook and the section on plagiarism in the class pack for this course.  If you have any questions about this very important matter, please feel free to come and discuss them with me.

* * *

One-Page Course Overview

To Dominate the Earth: Origins and Causes of the War

Introduction: the place of WWII in history

*Discussion sections do not meet during the first week.

Commandos sabotage Norsk Hydro: An emblematic story

The AGood War@ and the siren songs of oversimplification (two class periods)

*Discussion section: Causes of the Pacific War

Fateful ironies of technology and strategy (two class periods)

*Discussion section: Causes of the European War

Fascism Triumphant: 1939-1942

Overview of the war=s campaigns, 1939-42

** Evening films: “Hitler,” “Forever Yesterday”

*Discussion section: How to read a history book

Overview of the war=s campaigns, 1943-45

The Battle of Britain and the Near Thing in the Atlantic

*Discussion section: The Holocaust

The Navajo war against Japan (and other top-secret matters)

Strategic bombing, and the tension between national security and morality

*Discussion section: strategic bombing

Against the received wisdom: British humiliation in Singapore, French vindication at Bir Hakeim

Midterm exam

*Discussion section: Bystanders and choices during the Holocaust

What are we fightin’ for?

Art, music, and literature in wartime

*Discussion section: the battle of Midway

[ Spring Break]

Fascism Crushed: 1943-1945

Kursk: the largest battle in human history

If D-Day was to have a remote chance of success: seven key preconditions

*Discussion section: Alliance with Stalin; Kamikazes

Five elements of greatness in WWII military leadership (two class periods)

** Evening films: “The Home Front”; “The Day After Trinity”

*Discussion section: films on the home front and the making of the atomic bomb

Women and the war

Leo Szilard: the pacifist who launched the Manhattan Project

*Discussion section: The decision to drop the atomic bomb

Cigars, brandy, and power-politics: wartime diplomacy from Tehran to Potsdam

Legacy of WWII

“When they said Repent, I wonder what they meant…”

*Discussion section: The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, and the rise of international law

The long-term global transformative power of WWII

The aftermath, 1945-53 (two class periods)

*Discussion section: The politics of memory and commemoration

Thought-experiments  in What if… ? C How the war might have ended very differently

*Discussion section: Prospects for keeping the peace in a world of weapons of mass destruction

Closing lecture: Three kinds of hope

Course Schedule

Part I: To dominate the earth: origins and causes of the conflict

Week 1

* Mon., Jan. 9 — Introduction: The place of WWII in history

• Read William Duiker, Twentieth-Century World History, 2nd ed. (2002), chapter 6, entitled “The Crisis Deepens,”  pp. 125-149 (on e-reserve on OAK)

• Read Bess, Introduction and chapters 1 and 2

* Wed., Jan. 11  —  Commandos sabotage Norsk Hydro: an emblematic story

* Discussion section:

No quiz this week.

Theme for discussion: What do you already know about WWII before this course starts?

Week 2

* Mon., Jan. 16 — No class.  Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.

• Read Duiker text, chapter entitled “The Crisis Deepens,” pp. 125-149 (on OAK)

• Read Overy, chapter 1

• Read Bess, Introduction and chapters 1 and 2

* Wed., Jan. 18 — The “Good War” and the Siren Songs of oversimplification (Part 1)

* Discussion section: Causes of the Pacific War

Quiz: Bess, Introduction and chapters 1 and 2

Discuss Bess, Introduction and chapters 1 and 2; Oversimplification

Week 3

* Mon., Jan. 23 — The “Good War” and the Siren Songs of oversimplification (Part 2)

• Read Keegan, pp. 10-53

• Read Bess, chapter 3

• Read Overy, chapter 2

* Wed., Jan. 25 — Fateful ironies of technology and strategy (Part 1)

* Discussion section: Causes of the European War

Quiz: Bess, ch. 3

Discuss Bess, ch. 3

Week 4

* Mon., Jan. 30—  Fateful ironies of technology and strategy (Part 2)

• Read Keegan, pp. 54-127

• Read Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, pp. 3-24.  Available on OAK.

Part II: Fascism triumphant, 1939-1942

* Wed., Feb. 1 —  Overview of the war’s campaigns, 1939-42

* Discussion section: Why study history?  How to go about it?

Quiz #1: map quiz

Quiz #2: Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, pp. 3-24.

Discuss: Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, pp. 3-24 – and its                                                          implications for studying WWII.

Week 5

* Mon., Feb. 6 —  Overview of the war’s campaigns, 1943-45

• Read Keegan, pp. 127-240

Required evening films, Tues., Feb. 7, 6-9 pm: “Hitler,” and “Forever Yesterday”

* Wed., Feb. 8 —  The Battle of Britain and the Near Thing in the Atlantic

* Discussion section: The Holocaust

Quiz: Films, “Hitler,” and “Forever Yesterday”

Discuss: Films, “Hitler,” and “Forever Yesterday”

Week 6

* Mon., Feb. 13 — The Navajo war against Japan (and other top-secret matters)

• Read Bess, chapter 5

• Read Overy, chapters 3, 4

• Start reading Requiem for Battleship Yamato and Beevor, chs. 9 and 11 (on OAK)

* Wed., Feb. 15 —  Strategic bombing, and the tension between national security and morality

* Discussion section: Strategic bombing

Quiz: Bess chapter 5

Discuss: Bess chapter 5

Week 7

* Mon., Feb. 20 —  Against the received wisdom: British humiliation in Singapore, French                                                         vindication at Bir Hakeim

• Read Keegan, pp. 240-310

• Read Bess, chapters 4, 6

• Continue reading Requiem for Battleship Yamato and Beevor, chs. 9 and 11 (on OAK)

* Wed., Feb. 22 —  Midterm exam

* Discussion section: Bystanders and choices during the Holocaust

Quiz: Bess, chapters 4, 6

Discuss: Bess, chapters 4, 6

Week 8

* Mon., Feb. 27 —  What are we fightin’ for?

• Read Bess, chapter 7

• Read Overy, chapter 5

• Continue reading Requiem for Battleship Yamato and Beevor, chs. 9 and 11 (on OAK)

* Wed., Feb. 29 — Art, music, and literature in wartime

* Discussion section: The battle of Midway; oral history reports

Quiz: Bess, chapter 7

Discuss: Bess, chapter 7

Week 9

SPRING  BREAK (March 3-11)

Part III: Fascism crushed, 1942-1945

Week 10

* Mon., March 12 —  Kursk: the largest battle in human history

• Continue reading Requiem for Battleship Yamato and Beevor, chs. 9 and 11 (on OAK)

• Read Overy, chapter 6

• Read Bess, chapters 8, 9

* Wed., March 14 —  If D-Day was to have a remote chance of success: seven key preconditions

* Oral history report due, Wednesday, March 14, at beginning of class

* Discussion section: Alliance with Stalin; Kamikazes

Quiz: Bess, chapters 8, 9

Discuss: Bess, chapters 8, 9

Week 11

* Mon., March 19 — Five elements of greatness in WWII military leadership (Part 1)

• Read Keegan, pp. 310-450

• Read Overy, chapter 7

• Finish reading Requiem for Battleship Yamato and Beevor, chs. 9 and 11 (on OAK)

Required evening films, Tues. March 20, 6-9 pm: “The Home Front” and “The                                              Day After Trinity”

* Wed., March 21 —  Five elements of greatness in WWII military leadership (Part 2)

* Discussion section: The home front and the making of the atomic bomb

Quiz: Films, “The Home Front” and “The Day After Trinity”

Discuss: “The Home Front” and “The Day After Trinity”

Week 12

Mon., March 26  —  Women and the war

• Read Keegan, pp. 450-536

• Read Overy, chapter 8

• Read Bess, chapter 10

• Make sure you have done all the reading by now for the Stalingrad and Yamato essay, which is due seven days from now.  This includes readings from Keegan, Overy, Bess, Beevor, and Mitsuru (see class pack).

* Wed., March 28  —  Leo Szilard: the pacifist who launched the Manhattan Project

* Discussion section: The decision to drop the atomic bomb

Quiz: Bess, chapter 10

Discuss: Bess, chapter 10

Week 13

* Mon., April 2 — Cigars, brandy, and power-politics: from Tehran to Potsdam

* Essay on Stalingrad and Yamato reading due, Mon. April 2, at beginning of class

• Read Bess, chapter 11

• Read Keegan, pp. 536-587

• Read Overy, chapter 9

Part IV: The Legacy of World War II

* Wed., April 4 —  “When they said Repent, I wonder what they meant…”

* Discussion section: The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, and the rise of international law

Quiz: Bess, chapter 11

Discuss: Bess, chapter 11

Week 14

* Mon., April 9 —  The long-term global transformative power of World War II

• Read Bess, chapter 13

• Read Overy, chapter 10 and Epilogue

• Read Tibbetts 1994 statement: http://b-29s-over-korea.com/Enola/Enola_03.html

• Read Keegan, pp. 588-595

* Wed., April 11 —  The aftermath, 1945-53 (Part 1)

* Discussion section: The politics of memory and commemoration

Quiz: Bess, chapter 13

Discuss: Bess, chapter 13

* Last day to hand in essays for grade-enhancement option: Friday, April 13

Week 15

* Mon., April 16 —  The aftermath, 1945-53 (Part 2)

• Read Bess, chapters 12, Conclusion

* Wed., April 18  —  Thought-experiments  in What if…? — How the war might have ended          very differently

Essay on “What Have I Learned?” due, Wed. April 18, at beginning of class

* Discussion section: Prospects for peace in a world of weapons of mass destruction

Quiz: Bess, chapters 12, Conclusion

Discuss: Bess, chapters 12, Conclusion

Week 16

* Mon., April 23 —  Closing lecture: Two meanings of “realism”

* * *

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Optional Review Session for Final Exam: time and room to be announced.

Alternate Final Exam: Saturday, April 28, 12 noon to 2 pm (room TBA).  Please bring two bluebooks.

Final Exam: Thursday, May 3, 9-11 a.m (in regular classroom).  Please bring two bluebooks.