Carnegie Mellon University

Grand Challenge First-Year Seminar: Militarizing Freedom: Arms in American Culture

Course Number: 66-138

This seminar examines the way American culture and politics have utilized the tools, tactics, and values of the military during both war and peacetime. Utilizing several disciplinary perspectives, including history, rhetorical criticism, fictional narrative, and the discourse of public policy, we will consider the different ways that gun culture, military mobilization, veteran affairs, and police power have influenced American society, including how people relate to—or fear—one another. We will explore some historical roots of the U.S.’s militarized culture, alongside the linguistic, argumentative, and narrative trends that have contributed to urgent democratic issues like police brutality, domestic terrorism, and the rise of the carceral state.

This course will address themes and questions such as:

  • American exceptionalism: Does violence play an extraordinary role in American and culture, in contrast to other nations? What are its historical antecedents?
  • The escalation of violence in American political culture: Why does political polarization engender violence? Do traditional appeals to “freedom” accelerate such violence?
  • How has America become a country of prisons and mass incarceration?
  • Global impacts: How does the U.S.’s militarized political culture impact nations and people beyond its borders?

Academic Year: 2023-2024
Semester(s): Fall