Today we continue our new series of Fall 2020 course previews with the first class that Prof. Gehrz added to our curriculum when he started at Bethel…
HIS/POS305G The Cold War
Days/Times: TR 12:15-1:30 in Fall 2020
Prerequisites: GES130 Christianity and Western Culture, GES160 Inquiry Seminar, and a Contemporary Western Life and Thought (L) course (or GES244 Humanities III); plus a World Cultures (U) course
• Major option: History (elective); Political Science (international relations option or elective); International Relations (Political Science or History option); Business & Political Science (international relations option); Social Studies Education (content area elective); Digital Humanities (Humanities core elective)
• Minor option: History, Political Science
COMPLETE THE SENTENCE: STUDENTS SHOULD CONSIDER TAKING THIS COURSE ____________.
…if they want to know how humanity avoided a third world war that would have been even worse than the first two.
…if they’d enjoy using a wide array of primary sources (from declassified government documents to feature films and even cartoons) to study an event that spanned nations and generations.
…if they’ve heard talk of America entering a “new cold war” with Russia or China and want to learn from the original version.
WHAT’S A BIG QUESTION THAT YOU’RE ASKING IN THIS COURSE?
What is the nature of power and peace? For Christians, I think that one of the chief benefits of studying Cold War history is that we’re challenged to rethink these P-words. The Cold War, after all, pits two superpowers against each other and hinges on the potential use of nuclear power. And in the process, the Soviet and American governments maintained a kind of peace for four decades — never fighting the thermonuclear third world war that everyone feared. But what that history seems to reveal are the limits of earthly power (e.g., as when seemingly “weak” countries ended up shaping the foreign policies of the mighty U.S. and U.S.S.R.) and that a biblical understanding of peace demands more than the absence of conflict — as Pope John Paul II preached during the deepening crisis of the early 1980s.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE READING, FILM, OR OTHER SOURCE TO TEACH IN THIS COURSE?
Because I want to spend more time than usual on the aftermath of the Cold War, this year I’m teaching a new book by Andrew Bacevich, The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory. A former Army officer who served in Vietnam and then taught history at West Point, Johns Hopkins, and Boston University, Bacevich is a conservative Catholic writer who has criticized the “permanent war” that America seems to be fighting in the Middle East and Afghanistan. (In 2007 his son was killed in action in Iraq.) In the new book, he connects that idea to the seemingly victorious end of the Cold War: “…hidden within an apparent windfall is the potential for monumental disaster… Confident that an era of unprecedented U.S. economic, military, and cultural ascendancy now beckoned, members of an intoxicated elite threw caution to the winds.” Personally, I tend to sympathize with the point of view of the people he’s criticizing, but I think Bacevich’s argument is an important one for students to consider.
WHICH HISTORICAL INDIVIDUAL OR GROUP ARE YOU MOST EXCITED FOR STUDENTS TO MEET IN THIS COURSE?
While I love teaching the international history of a conflict that ranged everywhere from Afghanistan to Angola, I also like using the Cold War to introduce students to different sides of famous Americans — like the Martin Luther King, Jr. who thought that Communism was both contrary to Christian principles and instructive for Christians, and the Jimmy Carter who had a confident vision of an America dedicated to promoting human rights.