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Writing an Essay About War: How to Approach This Gelignite of a Topic and Emerge Victorious

write an essay about war

Writing assignments have a goal – and it's not about the grading. They are tools to help you gain and share an understanding of the subject you research and write about. Essays about the war, in particular, challenge you to understand the roots of the conflict and its long-term consequences. In a perfect world, this understanding spread widely enough should prevent humanity from new war conflicts ever arising. Alas, this is not a perfect world. Yet to save it, we must continue interrogating the past and looking for answers.

With this post, our essay writers service continues its "How to guides" series. This time we will discuss how to write about one of the most disturbing and challenging topics of all – war.

Choose the genre

There are dozens of essay types, and any of them can serve you well when you seek to learn more about a particular war. This can be:

  • - an expository essay laying out the timeline of the conflict, listing coalitions, losses, significant battles, etc.
  • - an argumentative essay, debating whether a certain war was avoidable or should the conditions of a particular treaty be changed
  • - a persuasive essay, hitting an emotional key and trying to prove your point from a place of feeling and moral, rather than pure rationality
  • - a cause and effect essay looking deeper into the "whys" of the conflict and its aftermath
  • - a compare and contrast essay putting one war against the other; one side of a battle against the other; one personality, such as the warlord or a head of state in the conflict, against his opponent
  • - document-based question (DBQ) where you have to analyze a historical document in order to answer the prompt
  • - creative writing where you use description or narrative for an immersive experience, giving events of the past (or present) human dimension and palpability
  • - and so on.

If your prompt does not specify the particular type of paper, you choose whichever suits your goal the best. To highlight the inhumanity of every conflict, creative and persuasive writing suit better. For analysis of economic costs and broader impact on the society, argumentative and expository will do perfectly.

Choose the focus

War has many dimensions: political, economic, cultural, technological, humanitarian, philosophical. It is too immense for a single essay or even a research paper. That is why, if your prompt does not detail a specific angle, you should choose one. You have a plethora of choices.

For example, the causes of war. Every war is a complex collision of different values, ideas, political and economic interests that gradually grow too polar until they erupt in a conflict. Then, there is a formal casus belli, a trigger that provokes the war or a pretext that is found to justify it. You can explore this complex relationship. Sometimes, it's difficult to untangle. For example, the causes of World War I take volumes to explain.

Alternatively, you can choose one of the participating countries and zero in on how the war affected it culturally, economically, politically.

You can explore medicine or technology used in a particular war. Look at how they advanced through the conflict, what innovations were introduced, and to what effect. Focus on the soldiers' life at the frontline or on the life of civilians at the home front.

There is also a moral dimension. For example, sometimes it's difficult to distinguish right from wrong, "their" side from "ours." Katey Schultz, the author of Flashes of War short stories collection, dedicated her book to finding the truth through narrative. She inspected wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because she "wanted to know, on the level of basic human experience, what were these wars actually like?"

On the other hand, sometimes one side is clearly the aggressor in a conflict, while the other side is in the defending position. One of the unequivocally clear cases is unfolding before our eyes right now. On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation has launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine without any provocation. After 8 years of backing up the separatists on the east of the country and fanning the flames of that smoldering local conflict didn't lead to the desired effect, i.e., the secession of Ukraine's eastern regions, Russia has decided to stop sockpuppeting the breakaway separatists quasi-republics and take Ukraine by force in the view of the entire world. This led to the overwhelming rebuke of the United Nations General Assembly, with 141 countries supporting the "immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all [Russia's] military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders."

Choose your sources

When you have chosen your focus and the slant of your essay, you are ready for research. Of course, the place to start is official sources of statistics and other primary sources. For the wars of the past, you will need archives, chronicles, or reputable academic secondary sources, such as monographs and peer-reviewed research papers.

For recent and ongoing conflicts, your sources will also be abundant. Still, you will need all your critical thinking capacity to choose trustworthy data. Understand the academic research methods and recognize valid information. Avoid using new, unreviewed studies and public opinion polls.

Start with the official sources. Most countries, even the smallest and the poorest ones, have official websites with information in English and a list of sources where you can find more. Wikipedia is also a great point of entry – you should be particularly interested in the footnotes.

David Trilling, a correspondent who has worked for 10 years in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, covering conflicts, advises the following sources of data and research on international affairs: World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Eurostat, World Health Organization, The United Nation's Agencies, the International Labor Organization, MIT and Harvard's libraries and tools.

Always seek to recognize and distinguish between fact, opinion, and propaganda. For example, calling someone a Nazi without proof to discredit the person is propaganda. Drawing parallels between historical Nazis and ideas prevalent in a particular society today is an opinion. Censorship, violation of human rights, controlled mass media, cronyism and corruption, sexism, violent repression of protests, criminalization of dissent, and identification of enemies as a unifying cause are facts.

Stay human

War is never just facts and numbers. It is traumatic. Don't limit your essay to reporting sterile bits of data and statistics. As much as it is important to stay objective, your readers will have difficulty engaging if you sound like a balance sheet.

Use interviews with survivors and stories of victims to create a relatable and human piece of writing. Highlight the values and stakes in every conflict and battle and link them to something your audience will understand, something close to home. Remember, the emotions are potent and universal: fear, loss, pride, hope. They find a way to your audience's hearts, making your writing believable and immersive.

However, when trying to find your voice, be careful not to allow levity into your tone. Behind every casualty figure are a person and a grieving family. Always respect that.

Writing about war is difficult but necessary. Which angle you choose is entirely up to you. However, remember to stay true to academic ethics and find the right balance of hard facts and human interest when covering this most sensitive and controversial of all topics.

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