What Makes a War Great?
"The war I am about to describe is the most memorable of any that have ever been waged, I mean the war which the Carthaginians, under Hannibal's leadership, waged with Rome."
This week, I am teaching the Punic Wars in my Ancient History course. When reading Livy's History of Rome, something that always jumped out at me was the bold claim he makes in his preface to Book XXI, which begins his account of the Second Punic War (also known as Hannibal's War):
This, of course, got me thinking about what makes a war truly memorable and meaningful. Every year, I like to ask my students this question in some form or another. This year, I asked students to think of America's wars as a beauty pageant of sorts and to tell me which of America's wars would be the three finalists in this competition. While there may be some argument about which was was the most important, a consensus quickly emerged regarding the top three:
Like the Romans, we Americans have fought a lot of wars in our day. What makes these three so important? My ninth graders tended to think of the Revolutionary War as the most important, as it began the existence of the United States as a nation. Without the Revolutionary War, nothing else would have followed, so it is important as an antecedent to every war that followed (if we'd never been a nation in the first place, there would have been no Civil War). Students also see the Revolutionary War as being fought over a set of distinctly American values that are still important to them today. The Civil War was fought to decide whether the United States would be one nation or two and also brought about the end of the institution of slavery.
I teach history and government