New campus courses reflect growing concern with war and terrorism
Instructors cite factors ranging from student fears to academic curiosity

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

28 August 2002 | Renewed interest among students in the so-called war on international terrorism, unrest in the Middle East, and post-Sept. 11 foreign-policy issues will be addressed this fall in a variety of new classes taught from many perspectives.

Faculty — some just back from summer fieldwork — have tailored courses in rhetoric, peace and conflict studies, journalism, film, political science, history, and ethnic studies to meet growing interest in these topics. With fresh insights from places like the Israeli-Palestinian border and Jakarta, Indonesia, they have drawn from their experiences to fashion innovative lesson plans that include guest experts, news correspondents, attorneys, and court documents.

Instructors attribute the rise in student interest to a wide range of factors, from emotions such as fear and worry to genuine intellectual curiosity. “Public interest [in these subjects] has accelerated because the media has focused on them so consistently,” says Carolyn Wakeman, associate professor of journalism, who is teaching “Covering Terrorism“ as a freshman seminar. “The interest is obvious among students. I’ve got people on the waiting list to get into this class.”

Some of the perceived growth in student interest has been fueled by Sept. 11 and its aftermath, concedes Michael Nagler, first chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Center (PACS), but not necessarily all of it. He and others, like David Cohen, director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center, and Darren Zook, a lecturer in political science, believe that interest has been steadily mounting over the last decade.

“It’s been a result, in part, of 9/11,” says Nagler, whose term as chair of PACS ended on July 1. “But there is also a subset of more politically aware students now, including ours in peace and conflict studies, who are terribly concerned about the exploitation of 9/11 by the present administration to move the country back to a Cold War state of perpetual conflict.”

Younger students more interested?
Lee Rosenberg, chair of the Department of Naval Science and director of Berkeley’s Military Affairs Program, says it is younger students, rather than seniors and graduate students, who are more interested in Washington politics surrounding international terrorism. “People were genuinely frightened after Sept. 11 and the anthrax scare,” he says. “Most of our students were very young during the Gulf War, and they hadn’t really had any exposure to war, so the Sept. 11 attack scared them. They began to wonder about why it had happened, what led up to it, and what they could do about it.”

He says this year’s freshman ROTC class is significantly larger – 60 to 70 percent larger, he estimates — than last year’s class. That jump in interest has the ROTC professor thinking about expanding his course, “Asymmetric Conflict: The Ethics of Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism,” from an abbreviated short course to a full-length, three-unit course open to juniors and seniors as well as freshman.

“I think students are gaining a new perspective on military conflict, and they’d probably like to see more courses dealing with the political, social, and economic roots of terrorism,” Rosenberg says.

Although he admits it’s speculation, Rosenberg guesses that some students may be reconsidering their careers in light of Sept. 11. “We saw quite a bit of interest in a spring conference, sponsored by the Associated Students, on careers in intelligence. And there was also interest shown in campus forums put on by the political science department and others. Students are seeing the change in the business climate on CNN every night now, and perhaps that has made careers in finance, e-business, or engineering less attractive, because there isn’t as much opportunity as there was two years ago.”

Obstacles to foreign reporting
Several journalism courses will be tackling the Bush administration’s war against terrorism, which “redefined the objectives of U.S. military engagement around the world,” says journalism professor Wakeman, who writes and teaches about international reporting.

She’ll ask students in her freshman seminar to explore reporters’ efforts to cover terrorism on different fronts while facing new obstacles to information access, as well as heightened personal risk. The students will be asked to consider questions such as how definitions of terrorism affect news coverage, how Pentagon secrecy shapes public opinion, and how patriotism influences foreign reporting.

One Graduate School of Journalism offering, “The War on Terrorism: The West, Islam, and the Arab World,” to be taught by Arab reporter Lamis Andoni, will focus on how the Bush administration’s policies toward the media have affected overall coverage of U.S.-Middle East relations.

In addition to those courses, the Peace and Conflict Studies program will be offering an upper division seminar — “Special Problems in Regional Conflict: India vs. Pakistan” — to bring students, especially those from the region, into an informed dialogue about events that have led to the current crisis between those two countries.

Rise of war-crime tribunals
In other war-ravaged parts of the world, such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia, and Malaysia, governments have begun to use war-crimes tribunals to try alleged terrorists and war criminals.

The recent rise of these courts is the focus of a new interdisciplinary course, “War Crime Trials: Pre-Trial Investigation to Judgment.” Co-taught by Cohen, a rhetoric professor who spent part of the summer observing a Jakarta war-crimes tribunal, and Eric Stover, a forensics expert and adjunct professor of public health, the course will rely on courtroom transcripts and Cohen’s observations of the Jakarta proceedings.

“It was political theater for the most part,” Cohen says, “performed very much for the international audience. But the defense was quite clearly favored, and the defendants were either acquitted or given very light sentences.”

Regardless of whether they are effective in serving justice, war-crime tribunals are a significant development in recent history, Cohen points out. Before 1993, the world had not seen an international tribunal since Nuremberg and Tokyo in the 1940s.

Since then, there have been two international tribunals, two UN-administered mixed national and international tribunals, and three national war-crimes tribunals.

“Once the atrocities were uncovered in Bosnia, the media and human rights groups shamed governments into setting up a war-crimes tribunal,” explains Stover, who also directs Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. “Now the law has evolved to a point where tribunals are a reality, not just a subject for academic discussion.”

Stover explains that the course will examine “the inner workings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia through the lens of eight trials and selected readings.”

It’s important to understand these proceedings, he adds, because a permanent international court to try people accused of the world’s gravest crimes just came into existence on July 1.


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