Witches’ Night

Halloween is on its way, and many Americans prepare to welcome this peculiar holiday — a mix of Christian and pagan rituals — by stocking up on candy, buying or making costumes, snapping up scarecrows for their stoops, stringing lights and cobwebs, floating white sheet ghosts from trees, devising frightful surprises for gatherings of youngsters, and grabbing some of the 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins that will be grown in the U.S. this year.

But what says “Halloween” even more than a Jack-O-Lantern?

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Isaiah 2:4: “[N]either shall they learn war any more”

I am privileged to teach in a first-year writing program at a northeastern U.S. university that allows me to draw in readings as I see fit, as long as the structure of the class follows a model shared by other classes in the program.

My class is called “War Stories.” Everything we read has something to do with war.

Most classes have read large sections of Homer’s “Iliad” (a modern translation, although we dove back into older translations to explore language variations). We always read from Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, about the Civil War. We view John Trumbull’s paintings from the Revolutionary war as well as photographs from the Civil War. We read British soldier/poets of World War I, including Wilfred Owen’s often-anthologized “Dulce et Decorum est.” We might read Elie Wiesel’s Night, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five, we might see movies (always by Stanley Kubrick), and we end with modern conflicts: Vietnam and Iraq.

This is not a history class. Neither does it seek to glorify war or warriors. (Hence the reference to Isaiah 2:4: “… neither shall they learn war any more.”) But we do read a lot about war and its often debilitating consequences.

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