Course Information

Course Requirements and Grading

You will be asked to submit three short book commentaries (1000 words; about 4 pages) on Christopher R. Browning’s Ordinary Men, John W. Dower’s War Without Mercy and E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed. You will also be required to read the course textbook: James Stokesbury’s A Short History of World War II. Copies of articles from MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History will be available on Blackboard. You will also be asked to view two DVD films/documentaries (The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter and Conspiracy); they will be left on reserve in the Library. You will be expected to write a paragraph or two, relating your impressions of the film. This may be submitted via e-mail. Your most interesting assignment will be a field trip to the aircraft USS Intrepid. Details will be announced later in the term.

There will NOT be a mid-term. The major single component of your final grade (40%) is a term paper (12-14 pages), the topic of which will focus on any aspect of the course that interests you. However, it is strongly advised that you run your topic by Prof. Rose for his advice. The remaining 60% of your grade will be based upon the three book commentaries and the final exam. The final exam will be given in our regular class period on the last day of the course, Dec. 14th.

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Dates to Remember

Sept. 28th
A short commentary on Browning’s Ordinary Men
Oct. 5th
Email your comments on the DVD of Conspiracy
Oct. 19th
A short commentary on Sledge’s With the Old Breed
Oct. 31st
Email me your comments on the DVD The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter
Nov. 9th
A short commentary on Dower’s War Without Mercy
Nov. 30th
Your impressions of visit to USS Intrepid due
Dec. 7th
Term paper due; no extensions
Dec. 14th
Last class and Final Exam

Note: A number of great documentaries and war films are available on DVDs from Prof. Rose. Ask for them. But remember to return them.

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My Accessibility

I am pleased to hear from you at any time. My office hours are 9:30 to 11:00 AM Monday and Wednesday or by appointment. Let me know if you are planning to come to office hours. During the day I can usually be reached at (212) 210-6700. My fax number is (212) 427-2053. My e-mail address is Over the past several years students have increasingly used e-mail as a mechanism of communication and I encourage you to use it as often as you wish for any reason. However, book commentaries and your term paper must be submitted by hand in class. I maintain a website on which this syllabus is reproduced: I'm on Facebook

An important note: If you have a disability necessitating your taking notes on a laptop, you are required to submit the appropriate authorization to me in writing. Otherwise, no laptops are permitted in class.

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A General Guide to the Reading

Like many history lecture courses, this class focuses on a very large subject—World War II—and attempts to provide both breadth and depth. A crucial element of this course takes place outside of the classroom, however, in the form of assigned readings.

There are two different types of reading for this course. The first are readings that are designed to provide you with background for specific lectures. These readings are drawn from you textbook (Stokesbury, A Short History of World War II) as well as several articles from Military History Quarterly (MHQ). Although there are no specific papers or quizzes that draw on these readings, they are important for introducing terms and debates regarding key moments in World War II. These readings are therefore important to following the flow of class as well as helping keep the narrative clear for the final exam. It is not supplementary reading, but necessary background.

The second type of reading—Browning’s Ordinary Men, Sledge’s With the Old Breed, and Dower’s War Without Mercy—should be seen as more complementary reading. In a class that attempts to take on the truly global conflict that was World War II, it is impossible to go into sufficient detail in any one area in the limited hours of classroom time. Over the years, students have asked for more insight into a few areas, and the three assigned books are designed to meet that demand. All of these books are mandatory, and each will involve a commentary. Because these books will not be discussed in detail in class (this class is too large to have discussion sections) and because the material they cover does not directly correspond to a specific lecture, each book is accompanied by considerable background information and reading questions designed to guide your reading. You must plan accordingly for when you do the reading and write the paper. The due date for the papers are fixed, but you might want to start the reading earlier or later according to your own schedule.

Because these books are designed for you to explore and consider aspects of World War II, you are on your own schedule as to how long you will take to do the reading. Some students can read very quickly, and understand how to read effectively: you are not expected to memorize every detail of these books, but to understand the larger arguments and use of evidence.

One theme that connects all these readings is that they focus not on the top levels, but at the supporting players of a truly global war.

A General Guide to the Commentaries

  1. All of your commentaries should follow the same basic ideas. Please note that these expectations do NOT apply to the term paper.
  2. Each should be about 3-4 pages, double-spaced (about 1000 words)
  3. Let me emphasize that these are commentaries, not book reports. There is no need to summarize—the key is a critical assessment of the books that involves your own thoughts on the reading, and an assessment that is also focused. It is not possible or desirable to write about everything. Instead, introduce a main point/thesis, develop your argument with supporting evidence, and have a conclusion.
  4. You must use considerable direct evidence from a broad range of the reading. You must use at least ten specific pieces of evidence, and no more than two examples that can come from any given chapter. Ideally, you will use a very wide selection of the reading to support your argument, but there will occasionally be times when a given chapter is especially important to your point and you thus want to choose two examples. If all of your evidence comes from five chapters (with two examples per chapter), it will be very suspicious.
  5. Avoid long block quotes. These take up too much space in a short paper, and usually show a lack of discipline. You can paraphrase a lengthy episode very quickly, for example.
  6. You must clearly indicate the origins of your evidence, whether or not you use a direct quote. There is no need to use a footnote—simply cite each piece of evidence with a parenthetical reference that includes author, chapter, and page. For example, if you refer to an incident on pages 22-3 of Sledge, you would write (Sledge, chapter 2, pages 22-3). It is important to note the chapter and page numbers, because there are several editions of these books available, and the pagination is sometimes different.
  7. Each book is accompanied by background information, reading questions, and suggested paper topics. You are free to choose your own topic as long as you follow the basic guidelines of a commentary. You must be very clear about your choice of paper topic. If you choose one of the options, make sure you indicate your topic choice as the title of the paper. If you choose your own approach, make sure your thesis is part of your title.

ORDINARY MEN by Christopher R. Browning

Assigned reading: Preface, chapters 1-18 (xv-189). Your edition might have a different pagination. Note the reading assignment carefully.

  • Ordinary Men helped change the way historians see the Holocaust. It is not a break from previous scholarship as much as a new focus: this is not a book that spends much time on the highest echelons of Nazi leadership or the horrors of the concentration and death camps, but at one police unit that was part of the vast infrastructure of the Holocaust, or what the Nazis referred to as the “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
  • The larger story of the Holocaust will be taught in several places during the semester, but Browning is careful to point out where the story of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 fits in the larger picture.
  • Browning leaves some obvious gaps in the Holocaust, and he makes no claim to tell the entire story. The story of the “Gypsies” (more properly referred to as Sinti or Roma), political prisoners, homosexuals, and other victims of Nazi genocide are not discussed.
  • Anti-Semitism was a crucial element of Hitler’s ideology as well as the Nazi rise to power. As you will see in the reading, it is difficult to ascertain the impact of anti-Semitism on the 101st. Assume that it is a factor, but Browning is looking at other factors as well.
  • Browning uses the standard term “rank and file” to distinguish them from officers.

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  1. How many ways does Browning emphasize and support his point that these are ordinary Germans, not elite members of the Nazi Party, the SS, or the military?
  2. You might want to consider establishing a basic flow chart to understand how the 101st is structured, or at least mark these pages with post-its as a reminder. Browning explains this organization well, but you might have to check back to remind yourself. Part of the terrible story of these “ordinary men” is understanding how they are organized and led—this is not a military unit but a police unit in German-occupied Poland.
  3. The maps on pages xi-xii are interesting but not vital. The pictures in chapter 5 cover events that go beyond that chapter.
  4. How are euphemisms used throughout the book? It is not just a matter of memories that are clouded by distance and guilt, but part of the Nazi Final Solution.
  5. Browning provides considerable background information and context for understanding the reserve police battalion, but it is not the same thing as his more focused discussion of the 101st.
  6. There is no need for you to carefully consider Browning’s methodology, i.e. his approach and technique. But some of you might want to consider a paper topic that involves the challenges of doing this type of history (this is related but not the same thing as paper topic option 3 below)
  7. Why does Browning use the term “blitz” in his preface? This word was coined during World War II to describe the new German way of waging war on the battlefield. The use of this word in the context of the Holocaust is not an accident.
  8. What was the internal dynamic of the unit? How was the unit shaped by the values of the officers and rank and file soldiers?
  9. What are signs of humanity among these ordinary men who became killers? Browning does not portray these men as stereotypical Nazi monsters, even though most of these men committed terrible atrocities.
  10. Chapter 18 is obviously a vitally important chapter, but one that poses its own challenges because of its theoretical focus. Keep in mind that this is not a book that you need to memorize for an exam, so keep track of the various debates and influences for the purposes of writing a paper. Zimbardo and Milgram are less important to remember and reference, for example, than the way they are more commonly referred to as the Stanford prison experiment and the “obedience to authority” model.

PAPER TOPIC OPTIONS. You also have the choice of choosing your own topic.
  1. How does the killing grow easier and more ordinary for the 101st? Why is Browning so troubled that these were “ordinary men”?
  2. What were the greatest obstacles/challenges for the 101st in terms of leadership? Leadership can be broadly defined, starting with where the 101st fits into the larger home front picture, as well as the command structure of the unit from the top officers down to the rank and file.
  3. This is a book about memory as well as history. Why do some memories stand out for the police in the 101st? Why do some memories get overlooked?
  4. This book helps demonstrate how many were involved with and aware of the Holocaust. Discuss.

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Assigned reading: Preface (by Sledge only), chapters 1-15 (all).

  • With the Old Breed is widely considered the finest memoir of the American Pacific theater in World War II. Sledge saw himself as an ordinary man in a unit filled with more than its share of heroes. Yet Sledge was clearly extraordinary for his level of openness, precision, and self-awareness.
  • There is some self-censorship involved in this book, however. Sledge certainly censors some of the language, and does not seem to record every incident where he was horrified by the actions of an American soldier. Yet these are minor criticisms considering how unflinching and raw he generally tries to be.
  • You will see how the battles described in this book fit into the larger American strategy in the Pacific theater later in the semester. For now, all that is sufficient for you to note is that this was some of the most difficult fighting faced by Americans in any war in our nation’s history.
  • It is less important to understand the structure of the military units in this book. This is a story told mostly through the eyes of Sledge and what he saw in the men in his tent, in his foxhole, and around his bunk. You should note that there was some difference between military units from different branches of the American armed forces: the Army was not the Marines, and even though the Marines are technically a branch of the Navy, they still see themselves as a breed apart.
  • Sledge does not always clearly identify passages of time nor his exact location in battle. This might be a product of his approach, but it is also consistent with being a soldier who has little sense of the big picture, only what he is told and what he experiences.
  • The maps and photos do not do justice to the conditions that Sledge faced, but note that these photos show what look to be almost moonscapes or WWI-trenches in battles that were fought on tropical islands.

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  1. Note that Sledge and many of the men around him are self-selected—they chose the Marines, and some of them had spent decades in service.
  2. Note that Sledge begins the book as a green soldier but ends as a hardened veteran. This often makes a difference in his perspective, although he sometimes emphasizes that his experience made no difference in the face of some situations.
  3. How did training prepare Sledge for war? Note that it is not crucial to understand every technical term, but to grasp the “big picture” of creating a Marine.
  4. Why is it significant that what Sledge faced in Peleliu and Okinawa was not what he had been told to expect?
  5. What was Sledge’s attitude toward the war against Japan? What role did such factors as racism, revenge, and atrocities play in shaping his attitude?
  6. Sledge experienced both tremendous pride and tremendous disgust about war. What are examples of each?
  7. What roles did Sledge’s comrades and commanders play in his experience in the Pacific?
  8. What role did Marine history play in the lives of Sledge and his comrades?
  9. How did mental strain during Okinawa end up being one of Sledge’s greatest enemies?
  10. Sledge ends his memoir with a simple argument: “With privilege goes responsibility.” But a careful reader will note that Sledge was not often motivated by a simple sense of nationalism—what were his other motivations?
PAPER TOPIC OPTIONS. You also have the option of choosing your own topic.
  1. What were the most important moments that shaped Sledge outside of combat?
  2. This is a book about telling an untold story of battles that get lost in the larger story of World War II and especially the overwhelming focus on the European theater (one can only imagine what Sledge would think about “Saving Private Ryan”). What points does Sledge try to emphasize about the Pacific theater?
  3. This book is about being part of the “old breed.” What qualities of the “old breed” did Sledge admire? What qualities did he look down on? You should split your paper roughly in half to discuss these two different attitudes.
  4. One of the most basic concepts of military history is the “fog of war,” a concept which shows how difficult it is to truly know what is happening during battle. What are examples of the fog of war that can be found in Sledge’s memoir?

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  • This book is the most densely written of the semester, and takes on the questions of race and racism in the Pacific theater of World War II. Dower is careful to support his points with evidence, but is also careful to qualify his arguments with frequent caveats. Do not attempt to keep track of every detail and losing track of the thesis in the sense of not losing the forest for the trees.
  • Dower generally uses the term “Oriental” to mean East Asian (Japanese, Chinese, Korean). The term is no longer commonly used.
  • Dower talks about Western attitudes, but the heart of half of the book is about American attitudes. The other half is about, of course, Japanese attitudes.
  • Dower is less concerned with which side was to blame, or which side was more to blame. Japanese imperialism and atrocities in World War II and especially in the years before—the Japanese occupation of parts of China in the 1930s is a monstrous story by itself—is not the same thing as what the Americans did in their waging of the Pacific war.
  • Dower’s great contribution is finding a pattern of racism in the Pacific that tied the two sides together, and that made the Pacific theater different than the European. He is not arguing that the Japanese and Americans/Westerners were the same, but similar. The distinction is crucial. The importance of this book is his recognition of this similarity and how it refocuses our understanding of the Pacific theater.

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  1. Note that Dower establishes his thesis in his first chapter, including an overview of the patterns that he sees in a Pacific theater that can be partially—if not completely—defined by racism on both sides. What were these patterns?
  2. In much of his analysis of sources like documentaries, cartoons, manuals, etc. (starting in chapter 2 and continuing in several other chapters) Dower does not argue that these sources caused racism, but were examples of the latent and blatant racism on both sides. How were the American and Japanese approaches similar? How were they different?
  3. How were war crimes and atrocities used by both sides as propaganda?
  4. What were the key ways in which “Western eyes” saw Japan? How were these images often contradictory?
  5. How did Western academics, intellectuals, and policymakers contribute to the racist depictions of Japanese? What non-racist models were overlooked?
  6. How did American/Western attitudes toward Japan fit into a larger pattern of whites dealing with non-white races over the last several hundred years? This includes American visions of the world, and American concerns with what was happening within their own borders.
  7. The cartoons and other images in the middle of the book are extremely useful, but require some flipping back and forth during your reading.
  8. How was Japanese racism built more on self-regard and self-elevation than on hatred of others?
  9. How did the Japanese vision of Americans/Westerners as demons build on Japanese culture, history, and recent events?
  10. How did the Japanese view of their future global empire reveal their fundamental racism?
  11. How did racism on both sides make the final year of the Pacific war so terrible?
  12. How did racism prove to be so persistent yet malleable after the war ended?
PAPER TOPIC OPTIONS. You also have the choice of selecting your own topics.
  1. How did the racial attitudes/racism of Japanese and Americans reinforce each other?
  2. How did the racial attitudes/racism of the Japanese and Westerners (Americans and British in this case) undermine their respective war efforts? You can interpret war effort broadly, from tactics to strategy.
  3. How did history and culture shape the racism of the World War II-era for both the Japanese and the Americans? Note reading questions/suggestions #6 and #9 above.
  4. What larger points does Dower make about the pernicious nature of racism?

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