Students grapple with questions regarding the involvement of the United States in Afghanistan by exploring Afghanistan’s culture and history and then examining the events that led to the Soviet invasion, the role of Osama bin Laden, and the U.S. involvement following 2001.
The Choices Program hosted a one-week Institute for K-12 educators, American Soldiers in American Wars: History and Memory, July 10-14, 2023. The Institute provided teachers with hands-on experience and introduced a rich and engaging model for teaching the history of U.S. military conflicts. The model links scholarly debates regarding the causes of American wars, primary source analysis of the experiences of diverse groups of American military personnel, and investigations into both veterans’ personal memories of their service and the politicized nature of Americans’ collective memories of war. Sessions led by participating Institute Faculty and the Choices Program’s staff helped teachers deepen their knowledge about these conflicts and adapt the model for use in their classrooms. The Institute focused on World War II, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but teachers also learned how to apply this unique teaching model to all U.S. military conflicts.
The model’s framework emphasizes the contested nature of historical inquiry. It broadens the approach to the study of war by moving from a geo-political, diplomatic history of the origins and causes to “on-the-ground” viewpoints of soldiers—an analytical structure that promotes the humanization of war, the historical contextualization of military service, and the examination of diverse experiences within the armed forces.
This Institute’s focus on the diversity of identities within the U.S. military held appeal for teachers seeking to also include the experiences of people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ service members within the history of American military conflicts. However, this focus on the diversity of identities and experiences did not convey an unproblematic portrayal of the military as a romanticized “melting pot.” Instead, the Institute explored the manner in which the U.S. military has often reproduced hierarchies of discrimination within American society while simultaneously serving as an institution through which a wide range of Americans have laid claim to the civic inclusiveness implied through military service.
The third part of the model framework introduces the study of historical memory, a mode of analysis that explores war not simply as a discrete chronological event with a fixed beginning and end. Through the lens of historical memory, wars become a starting point for the remembered experiences for veterans and a historical fulcrum from which the nation’s social, cultural, and political values are challenged or reinforced through collective memorialization.
As part of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) initiative “Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War,” the Choices Program received funding to provide professional enrichment for secondary school teachers in the form of a week-long institute. Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this institute, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.