The Changing Face of War ~ Lesson Overview

October 5, 2011

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GRADES: 9-12


TIME ALLOTMENT: Three to four 45-minute class periods



In this lesson, students will explore how warfare in the 21st century has dramatically changed since the days of “conventional” 20th century warfare. The Introductory Activity uses computer-generated proportional maps to help students visualize how patterns of military spending, arms trade, and war deaths reflect shifting dynamics in the nature of warfare from 1945 through to the present day. In the Learning Activities, students watch and discuss video segments excerpted from the PBS series Women, War & Peace to explore what the “new world order” inaugurated by the end of the Cold War means for the millions of people—especially women—affected by today’s intense but often obscure conflicts. For a Culminating Activity, students prepare brief reports about ongoing conflicts in the world, seeking to establish or confirm patterns based upon what they’ve learned in this lesson.



Students will be able to:

  • Describe the geopolitical impact of the end of the Cold War.
  • Compare and contrast 20th century “conventional” warfare with the conflicts of today.
  • Differentiate and explain the concepts of “national security” and “human security.”
  • Provide examples of how the United States military is revising its approach to “winning hearts and minds.”
  • Describe the future of women’s roles in peacemaking and postwar reconstruction.



New York State Standards:

Standard SS2: World History

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.

  • Key Idea SS2.2: Establishing timeframes, exploring different periodizations, examining themes across time and within cultures, and focusing on important turning points in world history help organize the study of world cultures and civilizations.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2A: Students distinguish between the past, present, and future by creating multiple-tier timelines that display important events and developments from world history across time and place.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2C: Students analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence perspective.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2D: Students explain the importance of analyzing narratives drawn from different times and places to understand historical events.
  • Performance Indicator SS2.C.2E: Students investigate key events and developments and major turning points in world history to identify the factors that brought about change and the long-term effects of these changes.


National Standards:

National Standards in World History for Grades 5-12

  • World History/Era 9/Standard 2B: The student understands how increasing economic interdependence has transformed human society.
  • World History/Era 9/Standard 2C: The student understands how liberal democracy, market economies, and human rights movements have reshaped political and social life.
  • World History/Era 9/Standard 2D: The student understands major sources of tension and conflict in the contemporary world and efforts that have been made to address them.
  • World History/Era 9/Standard 3A: The student understands major global trends since World War II.




Women, War & Peace, Episode 5: “War Redefined,” selected segments

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Clip 1: “A New World Order”

An exploration of how the end of the Cold War has inaugurated an era of small but intense conflicts in which civilian populations – and women in particular – increasingly find themselves targeted and terrorized by paramilitary forces armed with cheap and plentiful small arms.

Clip 2: “Human Security”

An examination of how the traditional strategic concern of “national security” among states is being supplanted by the emerging concept of “human security,” which seeks to protect the basic rights of individuals.

Clip 3: “Empowerment”

A Look at the promising future of women’s roles in peacemaking and reconstruction as evidenced by the United Nations’ adoption of Resolution 1325, which officially calls for greater women’s involvement in these processes.



Featured in lesson:

The World at War

An index of ongoing military conflicts around the world, from a leading online source of reliable information and news related to defense, strategic studies, and national security.



A collection of computer-generated world maps in which territories are digitally proportioned on each map according to various statistics.



Women, War & Peace

A website from the United Nations outlining resolutions and initiatives undertaken by the UN to help end sexual violence against women in wartime and advocate for their greater participation in peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction.


Women and International Humanitarian Law

A website from the International Committee of the Red Cross describing the current state of international law with regard to women in conflict zones.



For the class:

  • Computer with internet access, projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online/downloaded video segments)
  • One “The Shape of War” Student Organizer Answer Key (download here)

For each group of 4-5 students:

For each student:

  • One “The Shape of War” Student Organizer (download here)



Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:


Preview all of the video segments and websites used in the lesson.


Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer(s) or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s internet connection.


Bookmark all websites which you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as del.icio.us or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.


Print out one set of worldmapper.org mapcharts for each group. (See the “Materials” section for document links.)


Proceed to Lesson Activities