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Memoirs and the War on Terror

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

This course will examine the early years of U.S. foreign policy in "the War on Terror" through the memoirs of government officials, military leaders, journalists, and activists. Emphasis will be placed on the Bush Doctrine and its legacy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the fallout of the Arab upheaval. We will use case studies to analyze central issues in the War on Terror, the practicalities of making and implementing foreign policy in the U.S. government, and the consequences of American power since 9/11.

First-hand accounts from a variety of perspectives will offer insights into how and why key decisions were made in the War on Terror, their ultimate impact, and lessons that the next generation of foreign policy scholars and practitioners should draw from this era. The course will pay particular attention to the drivers of U.S. foreign policy that are more readily apparent in memoirs compared to theoretical or secondary analyses. Among others: the biographies, personalities, rivalries, and biases of historical actors; the political, emotional, and psychological demands of crisis management; and the role of ambiguity and chance in international events.

Recounting his tenure as Secretary of State at the dawn of the Cold War, Dean Acheson notes in his memoirs, "I have never yet read a memorandum of conversation in which the writer came off second best. As evidence they should be received with caution." We will be mindful of Acheson's observation in each class when we focus on a specific event, subject, or phase of the War on Terror. Underlying the course will be a recurring methodological question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying U.S. foreign policy through the lens of memoirs?

By the end of the course, students will survey the most influential memoirs related to the War on Terror. Students will also become familiar with the genre of policy memoirs and their utility in understanding U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The course will be of particular benefit to students planning to study history, international relations, and political science in college, as well as those who are considering careers in U.S. foreign policy and non-fiction writing.

Pratik Chougule worked in the Department of State as a writer and researcher during the George W. Bush presidency.

Coursework in U.S. or world history is useful but not required. If possible, students should endeavor to read at least one policy memoir before the course begins.