What Is War?

Grade Levels: 8 - 12

Excerpted lesson from Making Choices About Conflict, Security, and Peacemaking by Carol Miller Lieber


PURPOSE: Students will consider the kinds of human activity we define as war, what activities we might describe as warlike, and what activities are neither. Students will examine various definitions of war and types of warfare, especially as these descriptions relate to the kinds of war we are witnessing at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

LEARNING STRATEGIES: Brainstorming, whole group discussion, reading for understanding, cooperative learning

TIME: One class period

MATERIALS: Handout: Defining War and Aggression, newsprint, markers, large paper, newspapers, tape

SUGGESTED INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Make a web chart, placing the word "war" in the center. Ask students to brainstorm all the words and phrases that they think of when they hear the word "war."


  2. Put the following list of events (or any other events you want to select) on the board or newsprint, and ask students to consider whether they would categorize each item as "War," "Warlike," or "Neither":


  3. "War on Drugs"
    Cronulla riots in 2005
    Uprising of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank
    The bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City
    U.S. invasion of Panama in 1990
    Drug wars in Columbia and Mexico
    "War on Poverty"
    Attack on World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 2001
    Vietnam War
    Urban street violence
    Trade wars over tariffs and open markets
    L.A. riots in 1992
    Assassination of terrorist leaders
    The invasion of Iraq in 1991
    Terrorist bombing of Pam Am Flight 407 over Scotland
    Protests in Tienamen Square in China in 1989
    Democratic Revolution in Russia in 1990
    The Cold War
    Assassination of a state leader
    Armed conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia
    Political chaos in Somalia
    The conflict among Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda
    Israeli bombing of nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1988
    Protests against the policies and practices of global capitalism
    Apartheid policies in South Africa


  4. Give students a few minutes to discuss the list with a partner before you open up discussion with the whole class. Make three lists as students select where they would place each item. Discuss what students perceive to be the differences between each the three categories of activities and events.


  5. Pass out copies of the handout "Defining War and Aggression" to each student. Read through the definitions of war and the descriptions of various kinds of warfare carefully, soliciting examples and illustrations from students using the web charts, the list from #2, and current conflicts that students might be familiar with.


  6. Now, ask the students to come up with a definition for terrorism. After they come up with some definitions, discuss the pros and cons of different definitions. What differentiates terrorists from warriors, freedom fighters, or patriots? Is any attack on civilians a terrorist act? When governments bomb cities, is it terrorism? Was the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 an act of terrorism?


Assessment: Divide students into groups of three. Ask students to use current newspapers and news magazines to make a collage of current conflicts, labeling them using descriptions from the handout.

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