English | Projects In Reading & Writing: War: The Psychological Impact
W170 | 9295 | Wilkes

TOPIC:	 War: The Psychological Impact
INSTRUCTOR:  Lydia Wilkes

9295	MWF		12:20pm – 1:10pm		SY 108

In this W170 we will examine a variety of texts about the United
States military. We will move from the psychological transformation
of a civilian in the military to the impact combat has on the
individual to portrayals of service members in mass media. Beginning
with foundational work in the field of psychological by researchers
such as Freud, Skinner, and Milgram, we will dwell on the function
of operant conditioning in military training to gain an
understanding of an individual’s transformation from civilian to
service member, examining Thomas Ricks journalistic account of a
Marine Corps platoon’s boot camp experience in Making the Corps and
Marco Martinez’s personal narrative about serving as a Marine in
Iraq in Hard Corps. From there we will move to the effects of armed
combat—of what it means to kill and to see others die—with Dave
Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in
War and Society as our guide. These readings provide a foundation
for our first unit, which will focus on the traumatic impact of
participating in and witnessing combat, and on the degree to
which “talk therapy” and writing can ameliorate this trauma. In
addition to Martinez’s memoir we will read from Tim O’Brien’s The
Things They Carried and view some modern classic war films, such as
Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, as well as contemporary
documentaries filmed by Operation Iraqi Freedom soldier.

Our second unit will transition to the media’s role in creating
cultural beliefs about the military and soldiers. We will critically
examine mass media from military enlistment advertisements to war-
themed video games, iconic photographs to iconic songs, and major
motion pictures to small documentaries, in order to critique the
influence mass media has on shared consciousness and the degree to
which media makers employ benign propaganda to shape this
consciousness. Readings from contemporary psychological studies of
mass behavior and Jowett and O’Donnell’s study Propaganda and
Persuasion will add a critical layer to our examination of these

We will conclude with reflections on the individual’s responsibility
to cultivate an analytical posture in an increasingly mediated
society, and on what impact an individual can have on large systems
like the media and the military. Additionally, we will ask, how can
a civilian help combat veterans deal with trauma?, and what
responsibilities does a civilian have toward military service
members in a time of war?

While this course focuses on a combination of psychology, trauma
studies, military studies, and media studies, it is ultimately a
composition class, and we will devote several class sessions to
developing the analytical reading, writing, and thinking skills one
must have to succeed in college. Students should expect an above
average level of assigned reading and to write often throughout the
semester. Formal essays will comprise the bulk of the grade.

Potential readings and film viewings include: Thomas Ricks, Making
the Corps; Dave Grossman, On Killing; Andrew Carroll, ed., Operation
Homecoming (excerpts); Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried; Marco
Martinez, Hard Corps; Riverbend, Baghdad Burning vol. 1; Paul
Rieckhoff, Chasing Ghosts; Saving Private Ryan; Black Hawk Down; The
War Tapes; Full Metal Jacket.