"Table of Contents"


   Experiencing the Humanities


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CollegeHumanities.org,  or  OnlineHumanities.org




7-D. Resources on Disaster:

Art, Books, and Film

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, 1887. Painting.
From left to right are Death, Famine, War, and Conquest. (The “Lamb of God” is at the top.)*

Chapter 7-D of
Experiencing the Humanities

by Richard Jewell

Introduction--Experiencing Disaster

This chapter has a select list of movies, visual art, and readings about disasters. This is your chance to experience disasters through the Humanities.

You can use this list to explore one or more types of disasters of your choice. The disasters are grouped in five types, each one with its own list of recommended movies/films, visual art, and readings: (You may scroll down or simply click on one of these five choices.)



Select Movies/films on Pandemics:

Arrowsmith (film, fiction, 1931, 1 hr. 48 min. black and white; awards--nominated for 4 Academy Award Oscars, including Best Picture).  Ronald Coleman and Helen Hayes, two top movie stars of their time, are in this film based on a hero encountering ignorance and anger as he fights a plague epidemic on an island that could spread throughout North and South America. The film shows its age, and it helps if you read a short summary of the fictional Dr. Arrowsmith, first. However, it was highly regarded at the time. The book and film were created just several years after the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic. (For more detail, see Arrowsmith in "Select Readings" below.)

Contagion (film, fiction, 2011, 1 hr. 46 min.; awards--2 wins and 12 more nominations). Contagion is a popular film made by critically acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh. Critics and scientists consider it perhaps the best popular pandemic film made by Hollywood. The film shows a virus spreading by respiratory droplets (similar to the 2020 new coronavirus' spread), medical researchers and public health officials trying to identify and stop it, a breakdown in the social order, and the final introduction of a vaccine. A number of top stars are in it, headed by Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law. At present, this may be the best popular film about a pandemic that is similar to our pandemic that started in very late 2019.

Deadliest Plague of the 20th Century: Flu of 1918 (documentary film, 2018, 39 min.). Chromosome8. This film uses photos from 100 years ago and modern charts to document in careful detail how the "Spanish Flu" pandemic started, spread, and ended. Free on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDY5COg2P2c.

The Great Plague (Black Death Documentary) (docudrama film, 1 hr. 18 min.). Timeline - World History Documentaries. This film tells the story of the Black Death or Great Plague of London in 1665. It killed about 100,000 people--one in three of people in London. Several expert narrators tell the story as clips of actors reenact scenes that are interspersed with related images. Free on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPe6BgzHWY0.

Select Works of Art on Pandemics:

Brueghel the Elder, Pieter, The Triumph of Death, Oil on Panel, 1562-1563. This work of art--by the artist some consider the greatest Dutch and Flemish painter during the Renaissance--often is associated with plagues. The painting is in Madrid, Spain's Prado Museum. To see this work of art, copy and paste this phrase into a search: "triumph of death brueghel del prado the elder."

Plague doctors. In the 1700s, special "plague doctors" were paid by cities and towns to handle plague victims. They made house calls on victims. Each doctor wore a heavy, long-sleeved gown that fell to his feet, often of leather, with leather gloves; a wide-brimmed hat; and a full-face mask with a beak like a bird's. The mask had glass eyeholes; the beak was stuffed with aromatic spices or a sponge soaked in vinegar, both of which were thought to help fight the smell and infectious agent of the plague. The doctor also carried a stick for  hands-free undressing of patients and for pointing out body parts without touching them. The stick also served to ward off sick people or thieves in the street. In those times, no one understood infection, so, unfortunately, the beaks had air holes just under the doctor's nose, thus providing little protection from plague bacteria in the air. To view such doctors, copy and paste this phrase into a search: "plague doctor images."

Serre, Michel, Scene de la peste de 1720 à la Tourette (Marseille), Painting, 1720-1722. This famous plague painting shows you the Plague of Marseille, France, in 1720. In the painting, people use the sticks to move and undress bodies without touching them. It is in the Atger Museum, Montpellier, France. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "commons wikimedia chevalier roze à la tourette."

Select Readings on Pandemics:

Boccacio, Giovanni. "First Day," The Decameron (nonfiction first chapter of a fictional book of stories, 1349-53). The Decameron is a famous book of fictional stories that likely contributed in tone and style to the even more famous Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. However, the "First Chapter" of The Decameron is not fiction, but rather a detailed and literate description by the author of the 1348 Black Death in Florence, Italy. Two versions are available: (1) a simpler-language translation from 2007 free at www.gutenberg.org/files/23700/23700-h/23700-h.htm#Day_the_First, and (2) a more elegant 1903 translation free at  www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/texts/DecShowText.php?myID=d01intro&expand=empty&lang=eng.

Camus, Albert. The Plague (book, fiction, 1947; author won Nobel Prize for Literature). A short, easy-to-read novel by a famous existentialist author about how the plague strikes a French town, and how people respond, eventually conquering their fears. The full-text book is free at https://archive.org/stream/plague02camu/plague02camu_djvu.txt.

Dafoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year (book, fiction/fact,1772.) This short novel is about a young man's experiences in the 1665 Great Plague of London. Though somewhat fictionalized, Dafoe makes an excellent--and successful--effort to offer exact details and statistics of what happened in London during that bubonic plague. The full-text book is free at www.gutenberg.org/files/376/376-h/376-h.htm.

Lewis, Sinclair. Arrowsmith (book, fiction, 1925; Pulitzer Prize for Best Novel offered to author, author won Nobel Prize for Literature). An easy-to-read novel by the first U.S. Nobel Prizewinner about idealistic hero. The story takes place shortly after the 1918-20 worldwide Spanish Flu pandemic. In the U.S., Dr. Arrowsmith fights American typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox and plague epidemics, potential and real, all as an uphill battle as he is blamed for using ridiculous explanations for the diseases, "shoot[ing] a lot of hot air about germicidal effect or whatever..." and even for causing an epidemic himself. His problems echo what many experts are experiencing with the current pandemic. A movie, Arrowsmith, also was made from the book (see "Select Movies" above).


Select Movies/films on Climate Change:

Before the Flood (film, documentary, 2016, 1 hr. 36 min.; awards--Hollywood Film Awards Documentary of the Year, Critics' Choice Documentary Awards nominee for Film of the Year, and 8 other nominations). Before the Flood is narrated by film star Leonardo DiCaprio, who takes you around the world showing the results of global warming, both what is happening now and what are harbingers of the near future for our ecosysems. He also shows possible solutions. Free from National Geographic at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbEnOYtsXHA.

Gore, Al. The Inconvenient Truth Series (documentary films). In these two introductions to climate change, Al Gore, the former vice president under President Bill Clinton, gathers and displays recent facts and figures about current climate change. The earlier film has additional images and data, as well, about historical and prehistoric climate changes:

(1) An Inconvenient Truth: (2006, documentary, 1 hr. 36 min.; awards--2 Oscars, 31 other wins, and 11 additional nominations). Al Gore shows how climate change is real and whether we can affect it. Free online by copying and pasting this phrase into a search: "inconvenient truth free online."

(2) An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017, documentary, 1 hr. 40 min.; awards--1 BAFTA Award, 5 other wins, and 15 nominations). Al Gore shows how we are closing in on clean-energy solutions. Free online coping and pasting this phrase into a search: "inconvenient sequel free online."

How Climate Made History, Parts I and II (51 min. each). This two-part documentary juxtaposes images of maps, graphs, and dramatic photography with discussion by experts on historical changes of climate:

Part I: A history of climate change on earth from Neanderthals through the Roman Empire. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "how climate made history free online."

Part II: A history of climate change from the Roman Empire through the present. Search using the same phrase: "how climate made history free online."

Select Works of Art on Climate Change:

Climate change art: To see a number of modern, contemporary, and pop art versions of climate change, search online for "climate change art images."

Dahl, Johan Christian, An Eruption of Vesuvius, 1824. Dahl personally visited the continuously erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 1820 and made an oil sketch from which he painted this work of art. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "dahl eruption of vesuvius."

Hokusai, Katsushika, The Great Wave ca. 1830-1832, Metropolitan Museum of Art. This iconic painting is of a huge crashing wave with Japan's famous Mt. Fuji in the background is reminiscent of a tsunami (a long, high wave that crashes inland for dozens of yards, destroying what is in its path) that can occur after a major earthquake or volcanic event. Notice the people on the edge of the rim. An earlier eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE (AD) wiped the well-to-do and commercially important Roman town of Pompeii off the map, a regional disaster that probably killed over 15,000 people. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "hokusai great wave."

Select Readings on Climate Change:

Emanuel, Kerry. What We Know about Climate Change, Updated Edition. (Short nonfiction book, 2018, 88 pp.) A guide to climate change by an award-winning Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist and political conservative. Emanuel has made his slim book easily readable by both adult and young adult readers. The New York Times lists his book forst on its 2020 recommended climate-change readings. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "emaneul what we know about climate change update." For more books on the New York Times' climate change booklist (which includes both fiction and nonfiction), copy and paste this phrase into a search: "ny times 2020 climate change books."

"A Giant Volcano Could End Life on Earth as We Know It" (article). New York Times, 21 Aug. 2019, Search by copying and pasting "giant volcano could end life on earth as we know it ny times." The earth has twenty "super-volcanoes." An explosion of one of them, however rare, could create results similar to the 535 CE (AD) "No-Sun Disaster" for better or worse.

Keys, David. Catastrophe (book--See below in "General.")

Goodell, Jeff. The Water Will Come. (Nonfiction book, 2017). This contributor to several books on climate change constructs, in his own book, what major cities will look like with much higher waters by the end of the century. He travels to Miami, Lagos, Rotterdam, and Venice to discover details of how these cities will handle being overcome by very high, permanent floodwaters by the end of the century and sooner.

Science fiction: Beginning with J. G. Ballard's 1962 classic The Drowned World, science fiction writers often have been predicting the flooding of major world cities such as New York, New Orleans, Miami, Washington, D.C., London, Venice, and others; and other changes such as new deserts, new places with monsoon rainfall, and other major climate changes. If you like climate change science fiction, see the New York Times' list of both fiction and nonfiction by copying and pasting this phrase into a search: "ny times 2020 climate change books."


Select Movies/films on Genocide and Their Aftermath:

There are many worthwhile films on this subject. Here are just a few.

Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, documentary narrated by folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie (2014, 1 hr.). The "Doctrine of Discovery" is an international law first established in 1493 that allowed white Christians to take over newly "discovered" countries with native populations and, if the natives did not convert to Christianity, the Christian colonists could take their belongings, force them off their lands, and enslave them. In the Americas, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere this doctrine gave rise to genocide and slavery of indigenous people. The law's influence still can be felt now. Native American (Dakota Indian) Sheldon Wolfchild developed this film based on the book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery by Native American (Shawnee, Lenapi) scholar Steven T. Newcomb. (This film is not yet  free online (as of 6-2020. However, a 43-min. summary of the ideas about the Doctrine of Discovery is free online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvM4SJN76Yg.)

Latino Americans, PBS Documentary (2013, six 1-hr. episodes). At one time, Mexico owned half again more land than it now does: one-third of Mexico was taken away by the United States in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War and the related War of Independence by Texas. Since that time, Latino Americans in the U.S. have been subject to many of the same racist and genocidal acts that Native Americans and African Americans have experienced. Latinos were lynched, chased off their long-developed and deeded-land farms and ranches, and forced into near slavery. Many European Americans know nothing of this history. This documentary explores this 500-year history factually. PBS: free online at www.pbs.org/show/latino-americans/.

Memory of the Camps (1945; 1984, 58 min., black and white) This is the older, original version of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (2014, 1 hr. 10 min.). Both are the same footage, kept hidden by the Allies for politics almost forty years. The film shows the British Army liberating the WWII Nazi concentration camps. The images of extremely-thin, naked dead bodies in piles and pits are riveting and devastating, and the starved bodies of hollow-eyed living prisoners more so. The film is nearly impossible to watch but almost necessary to watch: you see photographic evidence of the Holocaust in the WWII concentration camps. (Note: the film's treatment advisor, a young Armed Forces soldier named Alfred Hitchcock, later became one of the most celebrated movie directors ever. PBS: free online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy_xWKJubuY.

Roots, drama, ABC TV Miniseries (1977, eight episodes totaling 9 hrs. and 48 min.; 9 Primetime Emmy Awards and 28 more nominations, Golden Globe Award, and Peabody Award). One of the most popular series ever on television, this story is from Alex Haley's popular, partly nonfiction, partly fiction, 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley wrote about--and the film dramatizes--Haley's family history from West Africa in 1750, the Revolutionary War, slave plantations, and the Civil War to the late 1800s. The miniseries, starring a number of well-known 1970s actors, well portrays the cultural genocide of slavery and its aftermath, as does the book. The 1977 miniseries had two sequels also based on Haley's book, and the History Channel remade the film in 2016, all of which used the title "Roots" and were well received by audiences.

Schindler's List, drama--historical biography (1993, 3 hrs. 15 min.; awards--7 Oscars and nominated for 5 more, 3 Golden Globes and nominated for 3 more, 7 BAFTAs and nominated for 6 more, and 77 additional awards and 35 more nominations). This WWII drama is a fictionalized account of the true story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler illegally protecting and hideing Jewish workers so they won't be deported to concentration camps. Stars include Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes; the director is the famous Steven Spielberg.

13th (Thirteenth), documentary (2016, 1 hr. 40 min.; awards--1 Oscar nomination, 3 Primetime Emmy Awards with 7 more nominations, and  an additional 27 wins and 38 nominations). 13th uses film clips and comments from Blacks--well-known, in positions of power, and scholars--to explain how the U.S. prison system creates a modern-day extension of slavery and discriminatory Jim Crow laws against Blacks. The U.S., says the film, has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners, and people of color represent a much greater percentage of their race in the general population than do whites. The film is rigorously researched and riveting to watch with news footage intermixed with interviews of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and many others.

We Shall Remain, dramatized history, PBS Series (2009). Five parts include "After the Mayflower" (73 min.), "Tecumseh's Vision" (82 min.), "Trail of Tears" (71 min.), "Geronimo" (74 min.), and "Wounded Knee" (78 min.)]. This excellent series provides highlights from Native Americans' points of view: from the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and a nearly successful Midwestern U.S. nation of Indians destroyed by President Andrew Jackson, to the infamous forced-March Trail of Tears, guerilla-war Apache leader Geronimo, and 1973 Indian-U.S. government standoff at Wounded Knee. It is narrated by actor and Native American Benjamin Bratt. Free online at www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/weshallremain/.

Select Works of Art on Genocide and Its Aftermath:

Holocaust Death Camp Art and Photos. For some of the most striking and painful images of the Nazi death camps, copy and paste one or more of these phrases into a search: "images of holocaust crematorium art," "images of holocaust crematorium photos," and "images of holocaust concentration camp photos."

Lange, Dorthea. She photographed many images, censored at the time, of Japanese-Americans in U.S. internment camps during World War II. To see some of her black and white photos, copy and paste this phrase into a search: "images for dorothea lange photos migrants."

Cambodian massacre skull images. In 1975-79, a new dictatorial Cambodian government, the Kmer Rouge, killed about 1.5-2 million of its own people, or about a quarter of the country's population. A majority of those killed likely were murdered by bullet or pickaxe and dumped in mass graves now called "the killing fields." Many others probably died simply from uncared for illness and starvation. Some of the more gruesome Cambodian reminders of this massacre are the many piles of skulls--dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands--recovered from graves, piles of bodies, or bodies left to rot on the killing fields. They are on view for visitors. To see some of these, copy and paste this phrase into a search: "cambodian massacre skull images."

Allende, Isadora, Island Beneath the Sea (book, fiction, 2009). Allende is a Latin American famous for her lyrical novels that sometimes contain magical events. In Island, she offers a well researched, comprehensively detailed, dramatic, and moving showcase of Caribbean slavery--some of the worst in the Americas--in the late 1700s, and how it moved in the early 1800s to New Orleans, forming the South's "plantation society" slavery. In the Caribbean in Haiti in particular, field slaves lasted an average of five years before dying, which led to a revolution and the founding of the first black-led republic, as dramatized in this book.

Haley, Alex, Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976). This is the original book that is the basis for the TV series: see Roots in the "Movies/films" section above.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, Indigenous Peoples' History of The United States (book, history, 2014, Beacon Press, 296 pp.; awards: the American Book Award and a PEN Award for Excellence in Literature). You may find, free online, her "Introduction" summarizing her book--along with her second-chapter history of Indian life before white settlers came--by clicking on the image of the book at https://books.google.com/books/about/An_Indigenous_Peoples_History_of_the_Uni.html?id=JCBCcAAACAAJ. A 26-minute video interview of her, "Native American Genocide and Resistance with Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz" in which she summarizes her book, is at http://mediaroots.org/native-american-genocide/.

Mettger, Zak. Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (nonfiction visual book, 1994). Mettger uses hundreds of images to show the rough years of 1865-1877 in the U.S., immediately following the Civil War. The U.S. Civil War was itself a disaster, as are most civil wars for their countries, especially if the war lasts several years as in the U.S. However, another disaster followed it for several decades--and far longer if you lived in the South or Southwest and were not white. In the beginning of this post-war period, the North, having won the War, imposed its will and laws on the South, which had lost. However, gradually, many whites in the South resisted, leading to the birth of the infamous terrorist white-power group known as the Ku Klux Klan; the loss of power, land, and rights for former slaves; and the rise of Jim Crow laws that built discrimination against, and an apartheid separation of, Blacks such that most were forced into lived lives of poverty, lack of political representation, and loss of personal freedoms. It was a century before Jim Crow began to be seriously dismantled by Martin Luther King and many others.


Select Movies/films on War:

Beasts of No Nation, drama, 2 hrs. 17 min. (2015; one Screen Actors Guild Award, 31 other awards and 20 additional nominations). In this story, well praised by critics and audiences, a child soldier fights in an unnamed African civil war. Events in the film are factually based factually on recent decades of African wars, highlighting the worst in wars and what they do to individuals and societies. Idris Elba received a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor and a nomination in the same category for a Golden Globe. Unrated with significant violence. Available on Netflix.

The Civil War (documentary, 1990, PBS series, 9 episodes in 11 hrs., 30 min. total; two Emmys, two Grammys, BATA, Peabody, and dozens more awards). Ken Burns' excellent history of the Civil War uses contemporary images, archival photos and documents, and poignant narration to explain, form multiple points of view, a war that profoundly shifted life and thought in the United States. Available on streaming PBS.

Fog of War, documentary, 1 hr. and 47 min. (2003; Academy Award for Best Documentary Film and twelve other awards). These eleven lessons about the "fog" or confusion of war-making decisions are narrated by Robert McNamara from his own life experiences. They include his childhood seeing World War I veterans returning, his own service in World War II, and his work as the U.S. Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "fog of war mcnamara free online."

Game of Thrones, fiction, HBO series, 8 seasons, 48 episodes (2011-2019; seven Golden Globes, dozens of Daytime Emmys, and hundreds of other awards and nominations). This epic fantasy is based on intrigues and battles among nine noble families, their followers and soldiers, and an ancient mythical enemy. All are fighting to become the dominant ruler of a fictional world much like medieval Europe and Western Asia. It is based on the seven-book series A Song of Fire and Ice by fantasy fiction master George R. R. Martin. The books--and the screen series--are thoughtful and highly dramatic reflections on war--both its individuals and its societies--during the past 2000 years. Available on HBO.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, drama, 1 hr. 56 min. (1999; nominee or winner of nine awards). Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, this film tells the story of Forest Whitaker's character, a minor hit man for the neighborhood mob, who follows, strictly, his version of the code of the samurai in Sun Tzu's The Art of War. The film offers real-life reflections on some of Sun Tzu's recommendations about war, morality, and fighting. Available on Amazon Prime.

Lawrence of Arabia, historical fiction biopic, 3 hrs. 48 min. (1962; awards--seven Oscars, one Golden Globe, and multiple others). This film often is listed among the ten best films ever made in English. Top box office actors starred in it: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, and others. Legendary filmmaker David Lean, of Dr. Zhivago fame, directed it. It is a biopic--a biographical drama with actors portraying historical characters--that is loosely based on how English soldier Colonel T. E. Lawrence, author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, helped unite warring Arab tribes in World War I. Along with sweeping epic drama, the film depicts his deeply troubled personal experiences in war. It is arguably a personalized, fictional example of Fog of War (above).

Saving Private Ryan, historical fiction, 2 hrs. 49 min. (1998; awards--five Oscars and six Oscar nominations, and over 140 more wins and nominations). Some people consider this the finest film story ever made about World War II. Most critics also place it among top 100 films ever made in English. The film shows Tom Hanks leading seven other members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in a search through battlefields for the only brother of four who is still alive, in order to send him home. It has many stars in it, headed by Hanks, and was directed by famous multiple-award winner Steven Spielberg.

Troy, historical fiction, 163 min. (2004; 60th highest-grossing film of all time when released). This epic war drama includes Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom among its stars. Some critics panned it, in spite of its box office popularity and its dramatic condensation of the greatest ancient books ever written, Homer's Iliad. The Iliad--and Troy--focus on the famous Trojan War three thousand years ago. (See also The Iliad in "Readings" below.)

Select Works of Art on War:

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas (1937). This famous cubist painter shows his version of the Spanish Civil War in this grey, black, and white painting. Some consider it the greatest anti-war art ever created. The work is one of his most recognized paintings. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "guernica picasso museo reina sofía."

Phan Thị Kim Phúc (Napalm Girl) by Nik Ut, black and white photograph (1972; Pulitzer Prize and World Press Photo of the Year. This war photo is one of the most famous ever. It shows nine-year-old Kim Phúc running down a road with other very frightened children and South Vietnamese soldiers. The South Vietnamese Army mistakenly dropped a napalm bomb on South Vietnamese villagers and soldiers. Napalm is form of sticky, jellied gasoline that combusts on impact and is very difficult to remove. In the photo, Kim Phúc is naked because she stripped her clothes off to stop the napalm on her from burning into and through her skin even more. She was expected to die, but she survived, spending fourteen months in the hospital, undergoing seventeen operations, before she could move. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "nick ut terror war 100 photos."

The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808, Francisco Goya, (1814). From 1804-1815, the famous French tyrant and military genius Napoleon Bonaparte built an empire that included large parts of Europe. In 1808, when he took the throne away from the Spanish King, a group of Spanish loyalists started a rebellion. They quickly were stopped, as shown in The Second of May, and the following day most or all were executed, as shown in The Third of May. Copy and paste these phrases into a search: "goya prado second of may" and "goya prado third of may."

Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze, oil on canvas (1851). General George Washington leads an attack across water by boat against the British. This is one of the most famous paintings about the American Revolutionary War. Copy and paste this phrase into a search: "washington delaware Leutze met museum."

Select Readings on War:

Hedges, Chris. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (book, 2002, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist). A nonfiction book by a journalist, war correspondent, and former divinity school student. He analyzes the seductive paradigms--made-up and real--that societies create during war, and the intense excitement soldiers may feel in war.

Homer, two famous books: The Iliad and The Odyssey (about 700 BCE/BC). Both of these famous ancient, book-length poems are about the Trojan War--the heroic ten-year battle that ended with the trick of the Trojan Horse.  The two books were considered the most important writings to influence the rise and golden age of early Greek civilization, before it was conquered by the Romans. And they have continued to influence literature, art, and culture for thousands of years to the present, especially The Iliad.

The Iliad: This first and more important of these two great works of literature is about the Trojan War itself: a ten-year siege of Troy in about 1200 BCE. Included in it is the famous stealthy gift of the Trojan Horse, which causes Troy to fall, is in one of its episodes. A 2004 movie, Troy starring Brad Pitt, condenses the war into two weeks (see Troy in "Films" above). The book established concepts of the meaning of honor and dishonor, fate, bravery and a host of other moral qualities that were very important in Greek and later Roman culture.

The Odyssey: This second of the two works is almost equally famous. In it, war hero King Odysseus (known as Ulysses by the Romans) travels home. However, the gods have placed a curse on all soldiers who won because some of them slaughtered all the men in Troy and sent all the women and children into slavery. As Odysseus sails home, he must deal with a number of mythical creatures and beings who oppose or delay him, killing all of his soldier sailors, and leaving him to return alone to his kingdom and his wife, Penelope, who has waited twenty years.

O'Brien, Tim (books). A Vietnam War veteran, O'Brien is famous for writing fiction and nonfiction about what jungle guerilla warfare was like in Vietnam. His books, well known for their many intimate and exact details of war, fighting, and being a soldier, often are prizewinners. He is a winner of both a 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and, ten months later a Pritzker Military Library Literature Award, along with a number of other awards and prizes. Three of his best works for the purposes of this chapter are:

(1) Essay, mix of nonfiction and fiction: "The Things They Carried." The details of what soldiers carried, a famous first chapter of his book. Free online at www.boyertownasd.org/cms/lib/PA01916192/Centricity/Domain/777/TTTC%20Full%20Text%20mariner.pdf.

(2) Book, mix of fiction and nonfiction: The Things They Carried (1990). Linked, semi-autobiographical stories, real with fictional additions, from his and others' Vietnam War experiences. The full text is free online at www.boyertownasd.org/cms/lib/PA01916192/Centricity/Domain/777/TTTC%20Full%20Text%20mariner.pdf

(3) Book, fiction: Going After Cacciato (1978, winner of the National Book Award). A Vietnam War novel with excellent realistic war detail.


This section lists resources about general and/or combined types of disasters. It is primarily a list of readings, many of which also are listed in the "Readings" section at the end of Chapter 7-B: "Society and Disaster."

Select Movies/films on Disaster in General:

Grapes of Wrath (drama, 2 hrs. and 9 min., 1940; awards--2 Oscars, nominated for 5 more, and won 8 other awards of the few available awards in 1940). This famous film tragedy, based on the book by John Steinbeck, shows the "Oakie" Joad family's struggles for survival on the road to California in the 1930s Great Depression and the disastrous Dust Bowl. The film stars Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, and John Carradine; was directed by the well-known John Ford; and was produced by famous Hollywood czar Darryl F. Zanuck. It is considered one of the finest Hollywood films ever made and was among the first 25 films the Library of Congress chose for its National Film Registry for historic cultural importance. For more details, see "Steinbeck, John" in "Readings" below.

Select Works of Art on Disaster in General:

Dürer and Duvet. If you enjoy dramatic black and white prints, copy and paste these phrase into a search: "albert dürer apocalypse" (1471-1528) and "jean duvet apocalypse" (1485 – ca. 1562). They are two of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, Dürer for his exquisite woodblock prints and Duvet for his engravings.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. "The Four Horsemen" well represent the terror of disasters. A number of famous and lesser-known artists have been inspired to render images of them. One example is at the top of this web page in the chapter title. The four horsemen come from three books of scripture. One of these books is 'Revelation" (Christian New Testament): the horses are sent to punish the earth and are white, red, black, and pale. These four colored horses represent, respectively, pestilence (or the Antichrist), war, famine, and death. The Four Horsemen also occur in two other books of scripture: "Zecheriah" and "Ezekiel" (both of them books in the Christian Old Testament and in the Jewish Latter Prophets). In "Zecheriah," the horsemen are sent by God to patrol the earth; in "Ezekiel" they are listed as "sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague." To see more, copy and paste this phrase into a search: "four horsemen of the apocalypse art."

Lange, Dorthea. She photographed the migrant "Oakie" workers moving from the American Midwest during the famine-inducing Dust Bowl to Los Angeles and other parts of California. To see some of her black and white photos, copy and paste this phrase into a search: "dorothea lange migrant photo images."

Select Readings on Disaster in General:

Jeffers, H. Paul. The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Great Depression (nonfiction book, 2002). Jeffers offers a very full, practical, and interesting history of what the Great Depression of the 1930s was about. It started with the Great Crash of Wall Street in 1929, also known as Black Tuesday, which led to a decade of very high unemployment. But it also included a number of other negative factors nationwide and worldwide, not the least of which was the Dust Bowl that led to tens of thousands of poor Midwest farmers to migrate west. It also included swing bands, the Art Deco movement, and many other economic, social, and cultural events that created a unique if harsh decade in the U.S.

Diamond, Jared. He advocates looking at history through multiple disciplinary (scholarly) lenses. Two of his popular science books are especially worth looking at in terms of disasters and how they affect societies:

(1) Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997; won journalism's Pulitzer Prize)It is Diamond's most popular book. It is a scientific, sociological, and historical consideration of why and how Eurasians conquered other people, not because of natural genetic advantages but rather because of where they lived. Part I examines how plants and animals made a significant difference in the development of Eurasians. Part II examines how this led to growth of populations, culture, and epidemic diseases. Part III examines differences in food and societies in different parts of the world.

(2) Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). Diamond examines how societies thrive or fall apart over time, using nine main societies (including Montana in the U.S.) as examples.

Keys, David. Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization (nonfiction book, 2000). This nonfiction book suggests how the Middle Ages--and the early part of them known as the Dark Ages--started, all from one big climate-age event. Thoroughly and exhaustively researched, it still is exciting reading if you enjoy nonfiction. The research still holds up fairly well as of 2020.

Mettger, Zak. Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (nonfiction visual book, 1994). The reconstruction period after the U.S. Civil War, and the development of Jim Crow laws and the terrorist group Ku Klux Klan, were, for the U.S., a mixture of several types of disasters--the end of a terrible Civil War; the impoverishment of both Southern whites and blacks; and the cultural, social, and economic repression of nonwhites in the South for a century to come. For more details, see this book's listing in the "Genocide" section above.

Steinbeck, John. Grapes of Wrath (fiction, 1939; awards--Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Nobel Prize to author later, in 1962). Grapes of Wrath, one of American Nobel Prizewinner John Steinbeck's greatest novels, is a realistic and tragic portrayal of the economic, emotional, and physical hardships many poor people experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It follows one family in particular, the Joads, as they must leave their homes because of the American drought disaster the Dust Bowl, bank failures, and national changes in agriculture and tenancy farming, all of which created a new class of poor at the time. The Joads, like thousands of other "Oakies" of those times, move from Oklahoma to California in their beat up truck with all their possessions in it, seeking but not always finding a better life.

*Image in Chapter Title: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, 1887. Oil painting. http://lj.rossia.org/users/john_petrov/166993.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2649874. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
Most recent revision of text: 18 July 2020



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