War Thematic Unit

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Michael Angelo

War Thematic Unit


I chose war as a thematic unit because the theme of war in literature has made such a big impact and impression in my own life. I’m a U. S. Marine veteran, who has always identified with war literature through my whole life but especially since my discharge in October 2005, and I find the insights of war literature incredibly accessible, interesting and pivotal to establishing a well-rounded Weltanschauung. Additionally, I know that a teacher’s enthusiasm for a particular unit or subject contributes to student’s understanding of the material, and war literature is among those topics that excite and tickle my curiosity and interests. I think my own experiences and references to history will further contribute to a thematic unit on the topic and that my combined understanding of both war and literature will provide students a chance to learn more on the topic than they could from simply reading and discussing the works I’ve selected.

As it relates to the human condition, war is a constant through mankind’s history. That is to say, every civilization in the planet’s history knows of war. It’s argued that violence is just a part of who we are a species and that as long as mankind exists, men will pick up sticks against one another. Even today, in times of peace, the US has troops stationed all over the world, including Japan, Germany, Korea, Djibouti, Afghanistan and Iraq. Even though the technology and strategies of war change with time, the emotions captured in war literature remain a vibrant reminder of our violent tendencies against other people.

War is of special significance to high school teens today because of their proximity to the danger of war. Many high school seniors decide to join the military after high school for a variety of different reasons, and of all age demographics, the government spends more money on recruiting teens than any other age group. Additionally, one of the most pervasive motifs of war literature is that while old men declare war, the young men are the ones that fight it. Understanding these aspects of life is more important to high schoolers than anyone because they will be the ones to serve as fodder for future wars.

As a foreign teacher of English, this unit is designed for my Korean high school seniors, or the most advanced levels of English classes offered for Korean students in the Korean school system. This unit is especially important for this class of students because as a part of Korean law, all males must enlist and serve a military term in their lives. There’s a little leeway with the law in that it never specifically states an age at which young men must enlist, but most students will either serve right after high school graduation or after a year or two of college. Regardless of when they serve, however, 100 percent of all young men in Korea must and will serve in the Korean military – making this unit especially pertinent and relevant to their everyday lives. Even though women are exempt from the conscription laws of Korea, the military and war are such a prominent feature of Korean culture (they still live in a state of war with North Korea; peace was never declared at the armistice, they only agreed to a ceasefire), making this unit applicable even to the female students. Furthermore, every female in Korea – as a result of the conscription laws – is either the daughter of, married to, siblings with, or is otherwise related with veterans and this unit allows for them to empathize and understand some of the hardships faced in war situations.

Predominantly, my students in Korea come from middle class families, with working fathers and stay at home mothers. They are generally smaller families, with no more than two children per household, and they live according to major Confucian guidelines – that is, the structure of their families and the hierarchy of the elders is a very prominent feature of Korean living. Their families will typically have one car per house, will live in apartments, will push students for English fluency, and consider international business (especially dealing with America) among the most prestigious jobs in their society. Also worth noting here, all Korean students, from middle school through high school, must wear uniforms, have nametags and get their haircut according to prescribed styles – even in public schools. The connections to the military are obvious, however, these qualities contribute to their cultural understanding of duty, serving a body larger than the individual, and a sense of belonging or fitting in with the group.

Racially the students are all Asian, speaking Korean fluently and having been taught English for the bulk of their lives. Typically, by the time they are seniors, students have a good working knowledge of the language and even struggling students can have broken conversations in English. They are versed in writing and reading in English and must take English classes every year in order to graduate.

One of the most defining features of how Korean teens spend their time is with games, particularly computer games. One game that’s wildly popular is StarCraft, which is a strategy game that pits three races of alien life forms against each other in battlefield situations. This game is so popular that there’s a 24-hour channel broadcasting tournaments and there are even professional players of the game that make substantial salaries based off of their ability. As this relates to a thematic unit of war, students will be able to connect the literature to their hobby readily and easily.

The concerns of Korean high school seniors rest primarily on their future prospects. Students are compulsive with their school work – their society values education as a means of social mobility – and they obsess about doing well in school as means to get into a good college so that they can get a good job. Male students are also concerned with the prospect of serving in the military, nervous and often wondering what it’s like and what to expect. This unit fields some of these concerns and offers students a chance to apply school time to learn about a topic that affects them directly.

Each of the five sections of the thematic war unit was selected to illuminate one or two specific aspects or emotions attached to the war unit. With their genres noted, the texts for each lesson and the specific sub themes they cover are as follows:


“The Call” and

“Who’s for the Game?”

by Jesse Pope



“The Rank Stench of Those Bodies Haunts Me Still”

by Siegfried Sassoon


Fear and Heroism

“D-Day Oral Histories”

by WWII Foundation

Oral History


“Give Us This Day”

by Sidney Stewart



“Flags of Our Fathers

by James Bradley


For the structure of my thematic war unit, chronology was a major concern in the selection of texts. The goal was to limit the scope of the unit to the two world wars, and even though they were not written in the order in which they are arranged in the unit, the time and setting of each takes students through five points of the wars in succession. Also, as was discussed in class, the works are further arranged from the easiest to the most difficult.

The sub themes for each lesson each touch on either one or two specific aspects of war literature, and the sub themes were arranged to add congruence to the entire unit. Patriotism as the first sub theme, for example, echoes popular sentiment at the onset of war, and Death as the second lesson serves to rapidly change student perceptions of war, much like how public opinion of war changes soon after invasion. Fear and heroism was the only double theme lesson but the text for that unit works well for both. Inhumanity touches on the aspects of war that resonate in soldier’s minds well after peace has been declared, and the final unit on victory brings the entire unit to a close.

  1. Students will be presented with a hypothetical situation in which there is an attack and will discuss the surge of emotion in such an event.

  1. Students will engage in a debate about the pros and cons of declaring war in our hypothetical situation.

  1. Students will discuss content, interpretation and application questions after reading the poems, “The Call” and “Who’s for the Game?”

  1. Students will prepare argumentative speeches for our hypothetical war introductory activity.

  1. Students will examine and discuss a series of photos depicting death in World War I.

  1. Students will read “MCMXIV” by Philip Larkin and discuss the elegy.

  1. Students will discuss content, interpretation and application questions after reading the poem, “The Rank Stench of those Bodies Haunts Me Still.”

  1. Students will work in groups of two and will do one of the two exercises:

A. Design a national monument for Koreans killed in the World Wars and find a poem to accompany it’s unveiling.

B. Find a national monument for Koreans killed in the World Wars and write a poem for it’s unveiling.

  1. Students will watch the 9-minute scene of the D-Day landing from “Saving Private Ryan.”

  1. Students will discuss the emotion of fear and define the word “duty.”

  1. Students will discuss content, interpretation and application questions after reading, “D-Day Oral Histories” by the WWII Foundation.

  1. Students will write an informal, argumentative essay on one of the following topics:

A. People refer to the generation of WWII as “The Greatest Generation.” Why? Do you agree or disagree?

B. People say today’s kids don’t have the same sense of duty as their grandparents. Do you agree with this or no?

C. Are all veterans heroes? Are there any professions in the world that automatically qualifies a person as a hero?

  1. Students will be given supplemental material on the concept of total war and will discuss the topic.

  1. Students will debate the rules of war and the civil liabilities of wartime practices.

  1. Students will discuss content, interpretation and application questions after reading pages 71 – 81 of “Give Us This Day” by Sidney Stewart.

  1. Students will work in groups of two to complete one of the following assignments related to the Geneva Convention:

A. Pick one article from the Geneva Convention and write a paper explaining what it means, why it’s a law, what must have happened to make it law, and whether you agree as to whether this should be followed in war?

B. Pick one article from the Geneva Convention and explain who it’s designed to protect – civilians, combatants, etc. – and scour the article for a loophole. How would you defend yourself if charged with violating this article?

C. Find a real-world example of people who were tried and convicted of war crimes. Write a brief bio, what article he violated, how, and the punishment.

  1. Students will listen to audio clips of three Churchill wartime speeches and discuss rhetoric techniques.

  1. Students will view the Iwo Jima flag raising and discuss the effect it had on Americans.

  1. Students will discuss content, interpretation and application questions after reading pages 215 – 225 and 281 – 296 of “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley.

  1. Students will write a fictional short story about victory in a workshop-styled class.


Jessie Pope, “The Call” (1915)

The following poem is perhaps the best-known example of Jessie Pope’s jingoistic war poems, exhorting young men to enlist and save England, or be labeled cowards. Her reputation was such that Wilfred Owen originally entitled “Dulce et Decorum Est” as “To Jessie Pope.”


Who’s for the trench—

Are you, my laddie?

Who’ll follow French—

Will you, my laddie?

Who’s fretting to begin,

Who’s going out to win?

And who wants to save his skin—

Do you, my laddie?

Who’s for the khaki suit—

Are you, my laddie?

Who longs to charge and shoot—

Do you, my laddie?

Who’s keen on getting fit,

Who means to show his grit,

And who’d rather wait a bit—

Would you, my laddie?

Who’ll earn the Empire’s thanks—

Will you, my laddie?

Who’ll swell the victor’s ranks—

Will you, my laddie?

When that procession comes,

Banners and rolling drums—

Who’ll stand and bite his thumbs—

Will you, my laddie?

Who's for the Game?

Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played,

The red crashing game of a fight?

Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?

And who thinks he’d rather sit tight?

Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?

Who’ll give his country a hand?

Who wants a turn to himself in the show?

And who wants a seat in the stand?

Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much-

Yet eagerly shoulders a gun?

Who would much rather come back with a crutch

Than lie low and be out of the fun?

Come along, lads –

But you’ll come on all right –

For there’s only one course to pursue,

Your country is up to her neck in a fight,

And she’s looking and calling for you.

Written by Jessie Pope

Jessie Pope was an English author, born in Leicester March 18, 1868 and educated at the North London Collegiate School for Girls from 1883 to 1886. Pope began writing for Punch; between 1902 and 1922 she contributed 170 poems to the magazine. She was a prolific writer of humorous verse, articles, and short stories, which were published in many other popular periodicals of the early twentieth century, including the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Evening Standard, The Queen, and the Westminster Gazette, before being collected in such books as Paper Pellets (1906) and Airy Nothings (1909). She received accolades as the ‘foremost woman humourist’ who had ‘nimble wit

Siegfried Sassoon
The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still”
The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still

And I remember things I'd best forget.

For now we've marched to a green, trenchless land

Twelve miles from battering guns: along the grass

Brown lines of tents are hives for snoring men;

Wide, radiant water sways the floating sky

Below dark, shivering trees. And living-clean

Comes back with thoughts of home and hours of sleep.

To-night I smell the battle; miles away

Gun-thunder leaps and thuds along the ridge;

The spouting shells dig pits in fields of death,

And wounded men, are moaning in the woods.

If any friend be there whom I have loved,

God speed him safe to England with a gash.

It's sundown in the camp; some youngster laughs,

Lifting his mug and drinking health to all

Who come unscathed from that unpitying waste:

(Terror and ruin lurk behind his gaze.)

Another sits with tranquil, musing face,

Puffing his pipe and dreaming of the girl

Whose last scrawled letter lies upon his knee.

The sunlight falls, low-ruddy from the west,

Upon their heads. Last week they might have died

And now they stretch their limbs in tired content.

One says 'The bloody Bosche has got the knock;

'And soon they'll crumple up and chuck their games.

'We've got the beggars on the run at last!'

Then I remembered someone that I'd seen

Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch,

Heedless of toiling feet that trod him down.

He was a Prussian with a decent face,

Young, fresh, and pleasant, so 1 dare to say.

No doubt he loathed the war and longed for peace,

And cursed our souls because we'd killed his friends.

One night he yawned along a haIf-dug trench

Midnight; and then the British guns began

With heavy shrapnel bursting low, and 'hows'

Whistling to cut the wire with blinding din.

    He didn't move; the digging still went on;

Men stooped and shovelled; someone gave a grunt,

And moaned and died with agony in the sludge.

Then the long hiss of shells lifted and stopped.

He stared into the gloom; a rocket curved,

And rifles rattled angrily on the left

Down by the wood, and there was noise of bombs.

Then the damned English loomed in scrambling haste

Out of the dark and struggled through the wire,

And there were shouts and curses; someone screamed

And men began to blunder down the trench

Without their rifles. It was time to go:

He grabbed his coat; stood up, gulping some bread;

Then clutched his head and fell.

        I found him there

In the gray morning when the place was held.

His face was in the mud; one arm flung out

As when he crumpled up; his sturdy legs

Were bent beneath his trunk; heels to the skye
July 1916
D-Day Oral Histories
Manfred Rommel-Son of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

“He was very surprised because he relied on the expert view of the German Kriegsmarine (Navy) that nobody could land under such weather conditions. It was a very courageous decision of General Eisenhower and very successful. My father was away from the theatre and some others (were) as well.

He said this is very painful that they are landing while I am not there.

The British and Americans were more courageous than the Germans concerning the weather.

In the morning around 8 o’clock there was still no clear picture of the situation in my father’s and (General) Von Rundstedt’s headquarters. They were still doubtful that if this really had been the landing.
But this changed in one-hour and my father began …when he heard it… he began to call his driver and prepare himself for departing for France.”
Ernie Corvese-US Naval Combat Demolition Engineer/Omaha Beach on D-Day

“I just volunteered that’s all.

Our job was to blow up these obstacles. Then had what they call Hedgehogs, and then they had these telephone poles with a ramp and on top of the telephone pole was a mine. That was for when the tide came in, the boats would just slide up there and the mine would explode. Our job was to blow a 50 yard gaps so the infantry could land.
I carried a rifle and a wet belt with canteen, ammunition and a rifle and I forgot how many pounds of explosives I had on my back. I believe they called it tetra tol. As I got to the ramp of the small boat that I was in to land us, just as I jumped into the water, there was this explosion.
While I was in the water, maybe a couple of seconds, someone pulled me out and I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find any of the crew I was attached to. The number of the small boat we were on was 13.
I found out later that they were all killed. I was the only one left.
I managed to crawl up the beach. I looked back and could see these tanks that were supposed to float.
They just sank. They went right to the bottom. As I was laying there, I couldn’t find any navy men.
You could tell the navy men because on our helmets we had a blue stripe that went around the helmet.
There was some army men 10 or 15 feet from me, laying down with a medic and an 88, they called them 88’s-the shells-hit them and they were gone.”

Richard Fazzio – US Navy Coxswain, first wave at Omaha Beach-Easy Red sector

“We headed into the beach, it was still dark but then as we headed into the beach, all the ships start firing, it was one awesome sight. All of a sudden, bullets were hitting on the side of the ship and the water and I looked into the well of the boat and there was 35 soldiers in there and I don’t think there was an atheist in there because every one of them was making the sign of the cross as we were going in and I happened to look….I looked to the right and I seen a boat get hit…and that’s when I realized what we were going into. As I hit the beach, Wally Lawton lowered the ramp and the soldiers start pouring out and I seen them droppin’, I seen them getting shot, I seen their faces blown off, God, it’s a sight I’ll never forget, it’s been in my mind since. This is the first time I ever talked about it, I hope its my last…As they were going off, there was one soldier there who didn’t want to leave, I guess he froze, he seen what happened in front of him and we were instructed not to take anybody back unless they were wounded or dead. As I lifted up my arm to tell him to get off, I was shot over here and it came out my back.”

“Two days before Normandy , all coxswains and captains of the ships, we had a meeting in what they called this pavilion, it was an airplane hangar. That hangar must have been about a half a mile long and it was wide anyway and they had the whole replica of Normandy beachhead…exactly like it was…and my position was..I had to head right straight.. gotta watch for a church.. and head right straight for that church. That day they assigned us our boats, the boat number and the wave. I won the lottery I was first boat, fifth wa…, first wave, fifth boat…”
“I can remember the soldiers telling me, “go all the way in I don’t want to get wet, I don’t want to get wet, you know? They didn’t get wet, they got killed.”

French residents of Normandy recall D-Day at Utah Beach
Janine Gazengel Lot

“We had the feeling we were going to die..the next shell is going to hit us and we’re going to die…We would have stayed in the house but it was crumbling all around us, all the plaster, all the windows crumbling and smashing. We couldn’t stay in the house anymore so we decided to move outside to a trench that belonged to another family and to be together there.”

Yves Osmont

“Of course the Germans were firing back and the duel was starting up between them and the American ships..We were right in the cross-fire and could hear everything.”

Cecile Pasquette Osmont

“We prayed all night.” It was shocking. Everything was moving in the house. The earth was shaking from all the shelling. We were right in the middle of the battle. We could hear the bullets passing everywhere.”

Henri Coepel

“They were doing some firing to support the troops inland..One could imagine the battle going on behind Utah Beach and on the Cotentin peninsula. The ships were aiming at different places because the paratroopers were asking for support.”

Philip O’Connell – U.S. Army Heavy Machine Gunner

“I wasn’t as scared as I thought I’d be but I had a funny feeling in my stomach. At that time I didn’t know what it was, but later on I found out they call them Butterflies. I did have Butterflies in my stomach.”

Wilson Delasanta – U.S. Army Truck Driver

“You’re scared all the time you do something. I was anyway. I imagine all the others were too.”

Frank Chomka – U.S. Navy Tugboat Crew (Brought over Mulberry Harbors)

“I honestly never thought of oh God ya know? No. I was. Like as numb as I was but I never witnessed or felt any fear of going into battle or anything like that.”

Leo Heroux – U.S. Army Amphibious Engineer

“Everybody was scared. Hey, we were only a bunch of kids, 20, 21, 19..Nobody knew what the hell war was at that time, but now I know.”

Richard Fazzio – US Navy Higgins Boat Coxswain, 1st Wave, Omaha Beach

“We went to see Saving Private Ryan. I think that was the last war picture I saw. I mean that picture was, the landing on the beach that day was almost like they were there filming, exactly like that, even worse.”

Leo Heroux – US Army

“Something big was coming, that we knew. When we were told that we would be leaving and to go to Southhampton, I said Southampton, that’s right on the coast to go to France . So we knew we were gonna go to France.”

Chris Heisler – US Army Paratrooper 82nd Airborne

“When we finally got over the shore, I looked down and saw the beach of France and I thought beautiful beach down there. Before it got very much further, maybe a minute, maybe five minutes, I don’t know, I started seeing flak coming up at the plane. It wasn’t very long after that that somebody said Stout has been hit. I got back there and put him on the bucket seat and laid him down. At that point somebody yelled at me, the green light is on Lt.. Now, I’d already had the boys half stand-up and hook-up because the red light had been on earlier and at that point I turned and hollered to the group Geronimo! Lets go! And I turned and went out.”

“I don’t remember anything until I hit the ground, it was the softest landing I ever had. My feet just touched the ground as I went down…I was hung up in a tree.”

“I had no inkling of where I was.”
“I was all alone, the only thing I got scared of really, ran into because I avoided roads and so-forth was cows. I was sneaking up on cows because I thought they may be some of our men.”
“I could hear the guns on the shore opening up with the bombardment. I could hear that all the time, every morning noon and night during that period.”
“I was looking over the hedgerow, over the hedgeway to see what was going on there and as I sat down, a German walked right in front of me that I hadn’t seen and he hadn’t seen me. Fortunately, I had my Tommy Gun cocked and when he came around the tree, I’m trying to remember if he had his gun slung over, I think so, but I just stitched him all the way up with the machine gun. That was the most difficult period I had in all my career because I thought he was the point of a squad and I was standing there expecting any minute to get shot, saying to myself I wonder if I know when I die, if I feel the bullets when they go in me or anything. Pretty soon I realized, I better get the hell out of here so I moved to another hide and it was at that hide that I was captured.”

“I just can’t explain, there are no words that can describe it, how much gratitude the people have for what we did. The one guy that I thought expressed it best said, he said, I never could understand, when he sent some pictures, why good American men would give up their families to come over and come to France and sacrifice, but I want you to know that we really appreciate it.”

World War II 1939-1945-The Home Front
by Donald A. McCall/Rhode Island

“On December 7, 1941 my mother, father, brother and I were at my uncle’s home in East Freetown, MA on a pre Christmas visit. As our usual Sunday early evening family time we were listening to one of our favorite radio show programs when President Franklin D. Roosevelt interrupted the program to announce that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that we were now at war. I had turned 10 years of age in May of that year and the full impact of a war wasn’t fully understood at that time. It wasn’t very long afterward that the whole of America was in union with each other to get involved and take care of the situation.

We were not only at war with Japan but also with Nazi Germany in Europe being allied with England . The response to the call to war was intense; our young men were lining up at the recruiting centers all over the country to enlist into the armed forces. Many that were not quite the legal age to enlist lied about their age just to get enlisted. America was in a very high defense mode.
As school children we were encouraged to purchase 10 cent stamps at our schools which were then placed into a booklet that once filled to $18.70, would purchase a “Victory Bond” in your name which would gain interest to a value of $25.00 at maturity. (I still have a partially filled book from that era.) This allowed even the children become involved with the war effort by helping with the funding for our military through these bonds.
In the later years of the war there was concern for the possibility of an air raid attack on our country, so a Civilian Defense system was created. There were several lookout posts established in Rhode Island where volunteers would stand watch in shifts around the clock reporting all sightings of aircraft and its description. A picture chart was available at the posts to assist in recognizing the type of aircraft sighted.
Once sighted a call was placed by phone to a central location. Along with this effort there were several air raid sirens in many locations on top of a telephone pole to be used as an alert in the event of an air raid. One of these sirens was located on a pole at the corner of Trimtown Rd. and Rockland Rd. (Finding a way to turn it on was a typical Halloween prank by us kids.) In order to reduce location identification at night by aircraft we were encouraged to have blackout curtains on our home windows, and have the top halves of auto headlights painted out with black paint to prevent the light from shining upwards.
To help with clothing, printed patterns were made on bags of laying mash for chickens, and other farm grains. When emptied and washed the bags were used to create shirts and blouses for wear. My cousin’s husband worked at a chicken farm and she made good use of the bag materials that he brought home. Back then the bags were made of good cotton material.
The news of the progress of the war was slow in reaching the people. Unlike today with our instant coverage, we had to wait days or weeks to get news of what happening on the war fronts. News reels were shown at the movie theaters once a week. Newspapers provided the most recent news in print.
I still remember one of the leading war correspondences who wrote excellent articles. He was Ernie Pyle, Number 30 who was killed in the line of duty. (I still have newspaper clippings of him in my collection.) I was much impressed with his coverage because his articles related to many of the troops individually. To sum it up, the one thing that helped us all is that we were truly united behind what had to be done to save our America against the threat.”

What you’ll hear from most World War II veterans when you ask them if they’re heroes:
“I was actually proud of being part of it.” “I’m not a hero, I’m not hero. I’m just a survivor.”
“I always felt bad and I do today for all the servicemen that got killed in action. I think about it all the time.”
“I remember that day after I got wounded. The four of us was there and we were all crying.”
“Anybody would have done what I did I suppose. So I didn’t think of it as being a great hero. It had to be done and everybody did what they had to do.”

“A Hero? What does it mean, a hero? Can you tell me? Just because he did something which is very important? He had a job to do and that’s what I did. I had a job to do and I did it. I’m not a hero, I wouldn’t call myself a hero.”


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