National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Honors in Practice, Volume 6. Copyright 2010 National Collegiate Honors Council


On October 7, 2001, in response to ongoing support for Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terror network responsible for the September 11 attacks in New York City, the United States and Great Britain attacked Taliban targets in Afghanistan with cruise missiles and airstrikes. Shortly thereafter, American ground forces were committed and played an important role in the ouster of the Taliban and the creation of a new Afghan government. America’s preoccupation with Iraq beginning in the spring of 2003 arguably allowed the Taliban enough time and space to rebuild and rearm, and by the summer of 2008 the Afghan government and its American partners faced a full-blown insurgency. This insurgency, which seems destined to continue for the foreseeable future, provides a unique opportunity for honors education that emphasizes critical thinking and creativity in a collaborative real-time environment. The simulation that emerged from this experience is also readily adaptable to other contemporary issues.

Insurgencies and corresponding counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts are nothing new, and like many military historians, I have spent the last several years exploring the history of this type of warfare even as I followed contemporary developments in Afghanistan and Iraq. By late 2007 I was comfortable enough with the literature of both insurgency and counterinsurgency to propose an honors seminar that would expose students to seminal readings in both areas. I also drew upon past experimentation with role-playing exercises to design a large-scale simulation and incorporate it into the seminar. The resulting course was offered as UHON 390: Small Wars and Counterinsurgency in the fall of 2008. I should stress that I have no direct experience in the subject matter and am by training a nineteenth-century specialist. Conceptualization and design of the course were driven by personal interest, which means that any well-trained academic with an interest in a related area could teach such a course without formal training. Offering a seminar like this, especially the embedded simulation, requires as much passion for the subject as expertise.