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Paradoxes of War

Online Course Highlights
  • Princeton University via Coursera
  • Learn for FREE, Up-gradable
  • 13 hours of effort required
  • 61,231 + already enrolled!
  • 4.6 ★★★★★ (615 Ratings)
  • Skill Level: Mixed  
  • Language: English

The Paradoxes of War teaches us to understand that war is not only a normal part of human existence, but is arguably one of the most important factors in making us who we are. Through this course, I hope that you will come to appreciate that war is both a natural expression of common human emotions and interactions and a constitutive part of how we cohere as groups.

That is, war is paradoxically an expression of our basest animal nature and the exemplar of our most vaunted and valued civilized virtues.

You will learn some basic military history and sociology in this course as a lens for the more important purpose of seeing the broader social themes and issues related to war. I want you to both learn about war, but more importantly, use it as way of understanding your everyday social world.

So, for example, the discussion of war and gender will serve to start you thinking about how expectations of masculinity are created and our discussion of nationalism will make clear how easy “us-them” dichotomies can be established and (ab)used. I will suggest some readings for you to complement the class and assign some activities through which you will be able to apply the theoretical insights from the course to your observations of everyday life. At the end of the course, you will start to see war everywhere and come to appreciate how much it defines our life.

All the features of this course are available for free. It does not offer a certificate upon completion.


WEEK 1: Introduction/Welcome

  • 17 minutes to complete

The basic paradoxes of war: how it builds and destroys, produces love and hate are discussed. Outline of course and general expectations.

WEEK 2: The Nature of War

  • 1 hour to complete

War is a product of both “natural” instincts and a social creation involving the imposition of organization and authority structures.

WEEK 3: The Causes of War 

1 hour to complete
Causes of war may be described as material, cultural, and psychological. At the heart of war is the product of us-them dynamics.

WEEK 4: The Experience of War

  • 1 hour to complete

In order to understand the social creation of war we need to appreciate that this is an activity VERY few would engage in with control or inducement.

WEEK 5: Making Warriors

1 hour to complete

Warriors are taught a set of values of which duty and honor are fundamental. These are taught through the imposition of discipline.

WEEK 6: The War of Armies

1 hour to complete

Wars are about organized violence and this part of the course traces the managerial and technological developments necessary to culminate in total wars.

WEEK 7: The Progress of Battle

  • 2 hours to complete

Historical overview of battle formations from phalanx to gunpowder revolution to industrialized war.

WEEK 8: The War of Societies

  • 2 hours to complete

Wars can also be about societal survival and we look at three examples: conquest, genocide, and strategic bombing.

WEEK 9: Social Aspects of War

  • 1 hour to complete

Nation State and Nationalism Wars help build states and nationalism

WEEK 10: Social Aspects of War

  • 1 hour to complete

Democracy, Citizenship, and Social Equality Wars also develop citizenship and democratic demands

WEEK 11: The Rise of the Rest

  • 1 hour to complete

While the West was dominant for 500 years, beginning in 1945 new forms of war have challenged the technological and organizational supremacy of old empires.

WEEK 12: New Challenges

  • 1 hour to complete

Wars are not fought as they were yet militaries are still organized anachronistically.

WEEK 13 : Final Lecture

  • 1 hour to complete

Summary of the class.

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