This seminar offers students an introduction to and interpretation of American “strategic culture,” that is, the habitual ways and purposes that influence when and how the United States uses its military power.  Beginning with pre-Revolutionary British roots and charting the effects of the wars from independence in 1776 and 1812, the fulcrum of the course will be a day-long “staff ride” to Gettysburg, taking a role-play approach to understanding the causes, the conduct, and the consequences of the war that ensured America would be “whole and free.” Following an assessment of the post-World War II “world America made,” the course will conclude with a student-led exercise to formulate a strategy for the 21st century.

Image: Allyn Cox, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823, courtesy Architect of the Capitol

Thomas Donnelly on Challenges to U.S. Primacy


Gary Schmitt

Gary J. Schmitt is a senior fellow in the Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies program at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies issues related to the American presidency, the U.S. constitution and its principles, and American civic life.

Thomas Donnelly

Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security policy analyst, is the co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at AEI. From 1995 to 1999, he was policy group director and a professional staff member for the House Committee on Armed Services.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

The seminar at Gettysburg National Battlefield will be conducted in the form of a “staff ride”—an interactive battlefield walking tour—which is a traditional pedagogical method among military commanders and their staffs, practiced today at each of the armed services’ War Colleges. Prior to the seminar, participants will be provided with reading materials on the Battle of Gettysburg and its strategic significance within the context of the American Civil War. They will also be assigned the role of a key commander or political figure to represent throughout the day. During the seminar, participants will be asked to justify, defend, and explain decisions that their “character” made in the course of battle. Creativity is encouraged, but critical thought and persuasive argument are essential.

The day-long seminar will conclude with a discussion on the essential strategic lessons to be derived from the Battle of Gettysburg. Participants will be encouraged to reprise elements of their roles from earlier in the day, but will also be expected to provide their own evaluation and analysis of the decisions taken by commanders and political leaders prior to and throughout the battle. The goal of this final session will be to determine the applicability of the lessons of Gettysburg—on the strategic and political level—to the conflicts of today.



Discussion Questions:

  1.  What were the critical decisions your persona made before, during, and/or after the battle?
  2. What factors and judgments led your persona to make the decisions he made?
  3. Under the circumstances, did your persona make the right call?

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