Peace or War?
Sociological Perspectives on Military Interventionism

Course Description:

War implies the breakdown of social order. As such, it is a rich topic for raising and answering the most fundamental, perennial questions of sociology. What is a social system and how does it sustain itself or break down? What are the forms of legitimate state authority, and what is their relation to the application of violence? To what extent are war and violence necessary to and functional for the maintenance of modern societies? To what extent can our current forms of domestic and international organization be understood as systems of stratification and social domination based on race or class? Our approach in this course is to answer these questions through a historical and case-based methodology: specifically, the examination of case studies of American wars in the Third World.

This course seeks to give students a new perspective on American society, as well as on an international system unable to maintain itself without collapse into violence. Many of the great social and political theorists have been concerned with the causes of war and violence as part of a more general approach to understanding society. Sociological theory has been concerned with the state as the institution officially endowed with the monopoly of violence in society, as well as with the social themes of war and violence: inequality and stratification, power and authority, ideology and community. We shall also be centrally concerned with the organization of the international social structure and economy, and the ways in which relations between advanced and developing countries can become locked into an institutionalized system of violence.

In the first section of the course, we look at fundamental sociological concepts through the lens of social theories of war, relying on historical and institutional analyses by classical sociological thinkers as well as contemporary writers. In the second section, we examine the cold war era, exploring case studies of American wars to illuminate the perennial sociological questions about power, authority, domination, and social order that inform sociology as a discipline. In the third section, we look at the post cold war era, and consider what forces will shape wars in the 1990s. In the fourth section, we focus on "humanitarian" wars officially declared to stop genocide, ethnic cleansing or mass starvation.  In the final section, we consider what kinds of societal and new international forces, including the UN, will be necessary to ensure a new era of peace, examining fundamental sociological questions about social change and social reconstruction.

Because of the challenging nature of the material—which taps personal, ethical and political values (including issues of multiculturalism, race and neo-colonialism linked to the focus on wars in the Third World)—students will have opportunities to explore and write about their own evolving perspective and philosophy on peace and war. Students will take part in small group discussions of these subjects, write a research paper about one case study, and also write essay-based mid-term and final exams.

Books (Required or Recommended)

  • Arnove (ed.), Iraq Under Seige
  • Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants
  • Chomsky, The New Military Humanism
  • Danaher, 50 Years is Enough
  • Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote
  • Derber, The Wilding of America
  • Herman, The Real Terror Network
  • Klare, Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws
  • Nelson-Pallmeyer, Brave New World Order
  • Course Packet


  • Mid-term examination
  • Short reflection papers/book reports
  • Final examination

Course Outline

  1. Society and War: The Sociology of Violence and Social Order in the American Context
    1. Who Runs the World?
      • The US As Global Cop; J. Clarke, “The Conceptual Poverty of US Foreign Policy.” (Course Packet);
      • B. Schwarz, "Why the US Thinks It Has to Run the World" Atlantic Monthly June, 1996 (Article on Reserve in Library)
    2. Social Structure and War 1
      • The National Security State and the Power Game; Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, pp. 1-50; 78-101
    3. Social Structure and War 2:
      • Authority, Domination and Violence in the International System; Herman, The Real Terror Network (Chapter 3 required; Chap 4 is optional)
        • Tape: John Stockwell (In class audio tape)
        • Film:  Bill Moyers, The Secret Government
    4. The Business of War: Capitalism, Inequality and Militarism
      • Barnet, Roots of War, Chapter 6  (course packet) also Chap. 8  (Reserve)
      • Melman, The Permanent War Economy, Chaps. 1,6 (course packet)
      • Greider, Fortress America (optional)
    5. Violence and the American Dream: Culture and Social Breakdown
      • Derber, The Wilding of America, Chapters 1-7
  2. Cold Warriors: Rethinking American Wars in the Cold War Era
    1. The Vietnam War
      • Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy of a War Introduction; Chaps. 1; 6-7; 9
        Robert McNamara, In Retrospect, Chap 11
        Film: Hearts and Minds
    1. El Salvador, and Central America
      • Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote
      • Film: Romero
  3. Wars After the Cold War: A "New World Order?"
    1. Toward a New World Order? Post Cold War Enemies and Strategies
      • Nelson-Pallmeyer, Brave New World Order, Chaps 1,2
      • Klare, Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws, Chaps 1, 7
    2. The Gulf War: Fighting for Freedom or Oil?
      • Nelson-Pallmeyer, Brave New World Order, Chap. 6
      • Klare, Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws, Chap. 2
      • Arnove, Iraq Under Siege, Introduction, Chaps 2,11,15
  4. "Humanitarian Intervention:" Current US and UN Dilemnas
    1. The New Intervention Debate: Rwanda and other Humanitarian Crises
      • Stephen Shalom, "The Debate on Intervention," Z Magazine   (Packet)
      • Johnstone, "Making a Killing" In These Times, Dec. 28, 1994 (Packet)
      • Block, "The Tragedy of Rwanda" New York Review (Packet)
    2. Bosnia and the Question of Genocide: Balkan Nightmares Revisited
      • Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia, Chapters 1, 5 and Epilogue
      • Chomsky, The New Military Humanism, Chaps. 1,3,5,6,7
      • Gitlin, “The End of the Absolute No” (xerox from Mother Jones)
    1. Intervention in Haiti: Post Cold War Military and Economic Policing
      • McFadyen and LaRamayee, Haiti: Dangerous Crossroads, Intro., Chaps.13, 15, 16, 22 (Library Reserve)
      • Kevin Danaher, 50 Years is Enough, pp. 1-34; 165-188
  5. Peace Strategies and the Reconstruction of Social Order
    1. International Strategies: Collective Security and A New Role for the UN?
      (All readings in this week in course Packet)
      • Robert Johansen, "The UN After the Gulf War: Lessons for Collective Security," World Policy Journal, Summer, 1991
      • Boston Globe, Who Will Keep the Peace? (UN series, April, May 1995)
      • Roger Morris, "A New Foreign Policy for a New Era, New York Times, December 9, 1992, p.A23
      • Paul  Lewis, "UN in Bosnia War," NYT, Nov. 20, 1992
      • Paul Lewis, "UN Busier Than Ever Globally, Struggles with Peacekeeping"
      • Charles Hanley, "UN role as peacekeeper in state of flux," the Boston Globe, Dec. 6, 1992, p.22.
      • Leslie Gelb, "The UN's Chief Dilemna," NYT, Dec. 31, 1992, p.A25.
      • New Yorker, "Global Gunslinger, Global Cops
      • New York Times, "Peace on Earth, By Posse
      • Whitney, Craig, "More than Ever, UN Policing An American Show"
    2. Domestic Strategies and Personal Options: The New Generation and the Question of Activism
      • Paul Loeb, Generation at the Crossroads, Chaps. 1-4; 7-8. 13, 14, 19, 22