History teachers often feel conflicted about teaching war in the secondary classroom. Wars are events that have shaped the ancient and modern world and it is important to ensure that students are aware of the role that they have played in the history of civilisation. In addition to developing a world view, teachers hope that understanding the history of war will help future generations learn from the actions of their ancestors. However many teachers are concerned that unless approached sensitively, the focus on war in the History classroom can have the opposite effect, causing students to glorify it rather than treat it as an historical warning. Highlighting both the short and long term physical, mental and environmental consequences of war is particularly important now as Australia begins its 100 year commemoration of WWI.
In 2013, the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria was approached by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) and Act for Peace to develop a series of resources in alignment with the Australian History Curriculum for students in years 9 and 10. MAPW is a not for profit organisation made up of medical professionals who use their expert knowledge of physical and mental illness to campaign for the prevention of armed conflict and the promotion of peace through research, advocacy, peace education and partnerships. Act for Peace was established post World War II with the goals of: protecting refugees, preventing conflict, campaigning for peace, reducing poverty through relief support and empowering communities.
The unit takes a unique approach to the study of war history as it is told from the perspective of doctors and war veterans who focus on the long and short effect effects that war has on individuals, families and communities.
The Enduring Effects of War’ Education Kit
The resource contains eleven lesson plans that can be used by teachers and employ a range of elements for teaching and learning about war. They cover the themes of:
- Returning from war
- Diseases of conflict
- Who is my enemy?
- Biological and chemical weapons
- The first casualty of war is truth.
- Peace Movement and resistance to war
- International Diplomacy
- Technology and War
- Death from above and below – the 20th century development of bombs.
- The changing image of war in 20th Century Australia
- War Toys
The kit includes:
- Talking head videos
- Classroom activities
- Assessment tasks
- Web links to primary and secondary sources
- Unit planner with suggested sequences
- Blank lesson templates
Much of the information is conveyed through 15 video interviews with veterans and experts in the field of war medicine. Phil White, Vietnam Veteran and Research and Development Officer at the Vietnam Veterans Association discusses the personal impact that post-traumatic stress disorder has had on his life. He reveals his struggles dealing with alcoholism after returning from the Vietnam War. His stories are difficult to hear, but provide an important contrast to the often glamourised version of a soldier. Associate Professor Tilman Ruff from the Nossal Institute of Global Health speaks on the spread of diseases during wartime and the long and short-term impact on civilians. His discussions reveal surprising information on diseases as a greater threat than injury during warfare. He also diverts the focus from medicine and the military to concentrate to the greater costs to civilians.
A little known fact about former ABC Gardening Australia’s Peter Cundall is that he is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. In a series of interviews he shares stories that explain his transition from soldier to peace activist, particularly focusing on the mechansims of war that are generated through politics and propaganda to evoke hatred. Photojournalist John Rodsted’s job is to document the visual horrors of war, his focus being on the damage caused by explosive devices to both military personnel and civilians. One of the stories he shares on camera is of the recent death of a child causes by an unexploded World War II landmine.
These are only some of the stories recorded for this resource. Additional videos focus on the medical effects of biological and chemical weapons, the bombing of Hiroshima, the psychological impact of war on soldiers and their families, the treatment of prisoners of war and how military smoking culture of the past put soldiers at risk of respiratory disease.
The MAPW resources are aligned with the Australian History Curriculum and are designed for year nine and ten students. The key conflicts covered are World War I (year 9), World War II (year 10) and the Vietnam War. The content is appropriate for students studying VCE units 1 & 2 History ( 20th century). The resources are arranged thematically and are effective in helping students understand change and continuity across conflicts, particularly in the areas of health, the impact on civilians and changes in military technology. The units are designs to add extra depth and dimension to the study of war history. They can be applied to investigations of WWI, WWII, The Cold War, Korea War, Vietnam War, The Gulf Wars, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
Students exercise a range of skills relating to historical thinking and analysing historical perspectives. They respond to a range of primary sources including propaganda images, newspaper articles, charts, graphs, photographs film clips. As with most new Australian Curriculum resources, digital technology is incorporated as a means of helping students develop knowledge through research and demonstrated understanding through the presentation of their work using a range of technologies including developing QR codes, undertaking internet scavenger hunts and making short documentaries. As the resources were developed by three educators, each reflects different teaching styles encompassing teacher-led class discussions, research projects, digital projects and group work.
Accessing the Resource
‘The Enduring Effects of War’ is a free resource kit. The PDF including all lesson plans and video links can be accessed at:
You can find out more about the Medical Association for Prevention of War at: http://www.mapw.org.au/
You can find out more about Act for Peace at http://www.actforpeace.org.au/
Consultancy and Education Services Coordinator
History Teachers’ Association of Victoria