Teaching World War II


A couple of weeks ago, I began teaching my first course on World War II. And while I have taught World War II history before, it has always been from an American point-of-view. So while I have covered the U. S. landings at Normandy, the naval battles at Guadalcanal, or the race to the Rhine, I have never covered the entire history of the war, or the war from the view of say, the Soviets or the Chinese. For many Americans, we have been taught a very myopic version of the war. It has really only been recently that the West has learned the enormous scale of battles that marked the Eastern Front, and how the Russians bore the brunt of the war against Germany. I believe something like 90% of German soldiers killed during the war were killed by the Soviets. And while it’s not entirely our fault that we think the way we do, as the Russians were notorious about letting scholars into their archives and getting information on their actions out, but many Americans still believe we won the war single-handedly.

My students seem sharp and genuinely interested in the history of the war. I even had a student correct me when I had a major brainfart and stated the French had begun construction on France’s border of the Siegfried Line. I hadn’t even realized I had said it until a student raised his hand and asked, “Don’t you mean the Maginot Line?” “Yes,” I said. “Just trying to see if you were paying attention.” Oh well. I admit, I was pretty embarrassed. It happens I suppose. What I wanted to say was, “Hey! This is a night class, I’ve been working at my full-time job all day, and I’m tired, so cut me some slack!” But I can’t say that to Air Guard military personnel, the people that make up the students in my class. That would be stupid of me, and I really enjoy teaching these men and women. They’re doing the nation a service and I feel it’s an honor to teach them.

So while an entire course could be taught on just the Eastern Front (in fact, I had such a course in grad school), I must also lecture the class on the other Axis and Allied powers. Italy, Japan, Great Britain, France (both Free and Vichy), Poland, the aforementioned China (both communists and nationalists), Australia, New Zealand, Canada; and then there are the other smaller wars and battles: the Winter War, Southeast Asia, the African colonies, the Balkans…and I begin to ask myself: can I even do this, or have I bitten off more than I can chew? So far, I believe it has gone well, despite the recent crapping out of my laptop, necessitating the buying of a new one, and trying to convince Microsoft that I had indeed just installed Office 2010 on the aforementioned crapped out laptop and was not going to spend the money to buy it again for the new one! Microsoft cut me some slack and allowed me to transfer over Office 2010 to my new computer. That very same day, they gave me a free trial of Office 2013, which I haven’t yet played around with. Technology continues to scare me. I honestly believe I was born in the wrong era. But I’m really enjoying teaching the course and getting to talk about the war. I get to do the same in my full-time job as well, and I know what a rare thing it is to enjoy one’s job. I’ve had several jobs that made me absolutely miserable, and I won’t take what I do now for granted. I really feel that I’m living the dream (at least MY dream). So when I do get tired and confuse the Siegfried with the Maginot Line, I’ll just pause, smile, and remember that we can’t always get it right, but it sure is fun to try.