Student Essays

Note from Ron Machoian: I want to share with ICSL readers the following student essays. Each of these was submitted to fulfil graded assignments during my spring 2020 course at University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Culture, Strategy, and Security.”  This course was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s growing threat at roughly the half-way point in the syllabus, throwing students (and teacher!) into a bit of unnerving chaos for about two weeks until we were able to get our feet firmly on the ground again, albeit in a virtual learning environment.  For a personal memoir of my experience as a classroom teacher during this transition, see this site’s Teaching & Learning #4, “Navigating the Pandemic from a Virtual Classroom in Wisconsin.”

The first two essays posted here, written by undergraduate students Elena Cata and Konur Peterson, were part of the semester’s closing exercise.  The prompt asked students to write a 1-2 page essay on how culture impacts strategic behavior and decisions, inviting them to integrate their own perspectives and conclusions from the course in a discussion of the surveyed content and literature.  Each of these students did a very nice job of weaving together several of the scholarly positions evinced by our literature and framing them with their own thoughts on the subject and how it appealed to their sense of the way the strategic world “works” in reality – that is, when the neat pages of scholarly theory meet human will and the world’s natural friction – like the unexpected interruption of a global pandemic on a collegiate semester.

The prompt for the longer 3-5 page essay, written by Anitha Quintin, asked students to analyze a specific contemporary security-oriented event, policy or action and discuss the manner in which a state or non-state group behaved and made decisions within a cultural context.  Anitha’s address of the complex cultural character of Japan’s denialist and revisionist memories of atrocities committed during the Second World War found traction in the concepts addressed by strategic culture scholarship.

Each of these three essays is representative of the high quality work I have become accustomed to receiving from students at UW-Madison.  Anitha and Elena are both interested in potentially entering the international security studies field in some manner after completion of their degree, perhaps following graduate study or professional school. Konur is an Air Force ROTC cadet who will commission following graduation. I hope that ICSL’s partners and readers enjoy the students’ essays and warmly welcome them to the blog.  I hope to continue posting student work from time to time as a complement to the other posts here.  You are invited to respond and comment on their thoughts!


Elena Cata: Spring 2020 Essay

IS 401 “Culture, Strategy, and Security” can be described as an in-depth investigation as to whether culture influences strategic decisions and if so, how and to what degree? Ultimately, I believe that this course led us to the conclusion that culture must reign universally over strategy because all strategy is constructed and executed by “encultured”…

June 17, 2020
Konur Peterson: Spring 2020 Essay

Culture, and all of its inputs, influences our strategic decision making and security behaviors in unmistakable and unavoidable ways. Our historical experiences, beliefs, values, traditions, language, and even our geography (all cultural inputs) are ingrained in our identity and it is impossible to fully divorce ourselves from them when making decisions. As Ken Booth reminds…

June 17, 2020
Anitha Quintin: The “Harmonious Japan Paradigm” and Japanese Historical Revisionism

The denialism of Japan’s war crimes by high-ranking Japanese authorities has been a strong point of contention over the past decades—particularly since the recent testimonies of former Japanese soldiers and comfort women. According to perceptions of Japanese culture as a homogenous, hierarchical culture, all echelons of Japanese society would echo statements made by officials and…

June 17, 2020