Winston Churchill called the Battle of the Bulge “the greatest American battle of the war.” It was a battle in the Ardennes region of Belgium that was Adolf Hitler’s last major offensive in World War II; a battle whose outcome would later prove the Allies victorious.
Eric Morgan is an Air Force veteran whose grandfather, a U.S. Army veteran, was in the Battle of the Bulge. Morgan recalls his grandfather not speaking much about the experience, but it still sparked his curiosity about the history of the war and America’s place in it.
“His involvement in the war greatly influenced my interest,” Morgan said. “I found out a lot about what my grandfather had done, his history, after he was gone, which was a shame. He received a bronze star and accomplished great things during his military career.”
Arizona State University launched the Master of Arts in World War II studies through ASU Online in 2019, the first and only online degree program of its kind. And in the fall of 2020, the first group of students graduated with their degree. One of those students was Morgan, who said graduating was a huge sense of accomplishment and a big moment for both faculty and students alike. It was something that had never been done before.
Morgan, a professional airline pilot, said he was looking for a lifelong learning experience in something that resonated with him and he'd enjoy learning about.
“I’m a pilot and every major innovation in aviation that we use today stems from the war,” he said. “Once I started the coursework, it expanded beyond that. Most history is very America-centric, where here, the program broadens your horizons about how the war affected the global economy and why things are the way they are today.”
What you’ll learn in the World War II studies master’s program
The ASU Online graduate program offers students a unique educational experience by engaging with scholars from ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and the National World War II Museum.
The program engages students in conversations surrounding the diplomatic, cultural and economic impacts of war and allows them to learn about the war and its geopolitical and cultural aftermath from scholars and first-hand accounts.
“Our courses in the program – such as the introductory World War II course, WWII Today, and Global War – ask probing questions that aim to make students rethink what they know about the war,” said Yan Mann, an ASU clinical assistant professor of history and program lead for the World War II Studies program.
The program is also designed to build an understanding of how our present-day international partners and rivals view the world around them and the foundations of their domestic and foreign policies. It also offers an understanding of how historical events, such as war, has shaped U.S. policy and how we’ve evolved from those events.
“In many ways, the Second World War is a bridge to our present-day world,” Mann said. “The war affected a host of everyday issues that we take for granted today, including international relations, scientific discoveries – such as medicine, radar, rockets, and nuclear arms – and race and gender relations. Without devoting sufficient time and attention to the Second World War's development, progression, and legacy, we are at a disadvantage in understanding where and how progress can be achieved, including its costs.”
He added that beyond the content, faculty work with students to develop transferable skills reliant on critical thinking and analysis that will benefit them in the future endeavors they pursue post-graduation.
What Morgan discovered during his online program was the importance of being self-motivated, as well as developing time management skills as he carved out the time required to study and complete each course. The routine he developed during his studies translated into his day-to-day life in a way he didn’t expect.
“It taught me how to study,” Morgan said. “Being a pilot, we go to recurring training every six months. I constantly have to study, and being in the program has helped me with that. I’m remembering things better because I have better study habits.”
The program was fast paced, he added. It also checked all the boxes he was looking for: a program he found interesting and was not offered anywhere else; the ability to learn and do it online; and the flexibility to balance school, work and life.
Online learning also allows for students to meet others from different parts of the country. Morgan got the opportunity to meet like-minded people; people who loved learning, were interested in the war and immersed themselves in concepts bigger than the war itself.
“The war is often viewed as black and white; the struggle of good versus tyrannical evil,” Mann said. “The truth, however, is complex, nuanced, and multi-dimensional. All of our students come into the program with some knowledge about the war, but we want to challenge their ideas and expose them to information that will expand their understanding of an event they are passionate about and better appreciate its impact on our everyday lives."