War Literature Returns to CHS

By: Megan Marcum, Contributing Writer

Rafe Mechlin acts as a messenger between his soldier and his general.

The 2019-2020 school year at Centralia High School has seen the return of several classes to the curriculum, including War Literature, an immersive class that teaches kids about war strategy and how armies use it to their advantage. Kortney Sebben, CHS Language Arts instructor, teaches the course. 

The class is based around Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, a book that has been used for centuries and focuses on how to wage and win a war, as well as situations outside war. This class teaches students to research literal and nonliteral wars, such as mental illnesses, using subsections from The Art of War to analyze the philosophy, practicality and complexity of war tactics and strategies.

Students are able to participate in team building exercises in this course and learn how to strategically solve problems. Sebben set up a game called Chain of Command Chess to teach students about following orders. In her version, the player requests a move to the commander in another room through a messenger without the message being transmitted incorrectly or obstructed by a spy. The students who know how to play chess take on the role of “general” and are asked to turn away from the board and give orders to the “soldiers”–the people who do not know how to play chess. With the generals’ back turned from the game board (the “battlefield”), the soldier must carry out the orders. Players rely on effective communication in order to “wage war” successfully. In another version of the game, students work in teams of six. The general stands outside the classroom while a messenger is employed to deliver information back and forth between the general and the soldier.

This communication-based game is meant to expose Sun Tzu’s qualities of a good leader and how to wage a war successfully using Sun-Tzu’s tactics. After playing the game, Sebben asked students to reflect on the pace of the game, the amount of time it took them to play, whether or not they wished to disobey the general’s commands, whether or not they disobeyed the general and how much pressure they felt while playing. This activity was designed to combine Sun-Tzu’s theory with real-word application in a safe environment. It provided students a chance to practice vital soft skills such as communication and teamwork. 

Sebben has several activities planned for War Literature this 2019-2020 school year. Some of the

Tristin Haas “forag[es] of the enemy,” a strategy Sun Tzu proposes as something a “wise general” should do, by finding a mirror in the classroom and using it to see the game board.

activities include more team building activities, film analysis and a Capture the Flag tournament with Mrs. Patton’s Vietnam class. Currently, War Lit students are applying The Art of War and war strategy to a war literature book of their choice. 

In preparation for this class, Sebben talked to some of her friends in the military and asked them about what they would like to see students learn in a War Lit class. She also read a lot of fiction and non-fiction books.

Wes Redington and Max Michael serve as “generals” to “soldiers” Reggie Spelman and Brady Oligschlaeger. Max utilizes the chalkboard to help with his calculations: “Thus do many calculations lead to victory” (Sun Tzu)

War Lit was not offered as a class during the 2018-2019 school year because Sebben was unable to fit the class into her schedule. However, the class has been added again because she was able to make her language classes larger to make room for this course. Former students missed the class and what it taught them. Sebben said, “Over the years, I have had numerous students who are either interested in war history or plan on enlisting in the military, and I wanted to offer something that would be of both interest and value to them. Also, war history and literature seems to be a popular choice in reading.”

One of the few Centralia High School students who will be leaving high school and going straight into the military is senior Drew Kribbs. After he graduates, Kribbs is going into the Marines to be an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).  An EOD must be able to locate, access, identify, neutralize and dispose of any explosives. Kribbs said War Lit has taught him about how to deal with these particular situations.

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