Teaching foreign policy with film

The takeoff point is Errol Morris' documentary "The Fog of War."

585929_090511_fogofwar2.jpg
585929_090511_fogofwar2.jpg

A guest post from Karl F. Inderfurth, John O. Rankin Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University and former Assistant Secretary of State

I have greatly enjoyed the running exchange on the best films for a foreign policy film festival, started by Stephen Walt and then joined by Daniel Drezner and Fred Kaplan.

But this is not surprising.  Three years ago I began teaching a 13 week undergraduate course at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs entitled "Film and U.S. Foreign Policy."

A guest post from Karl F. Inderfurth, John O. Rankin Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University and former Assistant Secretary of State

I have greatly enjoyed the running exchange on the best films for a foreign policy film festival, started by Stephen Walt and then joined by Daniel Drezner and Fred Kaplan.

But this is not surprising.  Three years ago I began teaching a 13 week undergraduate course at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs entitled “Film and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

I am certainly not the first professor to begin a course with Santayana’s famous quote: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”   But I may be the first to add – so go see these movies.

The takeoff point for the course is Errol Morris’ documentary The Fog of War on the 11 lessons drawn from the controversial life (understatement) of Robert McNamara (i.e. “empathize with your enemy,” “rationality will not save us,” “proportionality should be a guideline in war,” “be prepared to reexamine your reasoning”). Students are asked to draw comparable lessons from the films we see.  Each film is also supplemented with readings to take the students deeper into the subject.

Enough said. Consider the above the trailer and what follows the main attraction.  Comments welcomed.

FILM AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY – FILM & BOOK SELECTIONS
INTRODUCTION — LESSONS LEARNED

1. Fog of War, An Errol Morris Film

FOREIGN INTERVENTION – WAR / VIETNAM

2.   The Quiet American (Michael Caine version, not the original)  //  Graham Greene, The Quiet American and William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American

3.   Path to War //  Robert McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam

FOREIGN INTERVENTION – COVERT / AFGHANISTAN

4. The Kite Runner //  Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

5. Charlie Wilson’s War //  Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

FOREIGN INTERVENTION – HUMANITARIAN / SOMALIA

6.  Black Hawk Down //  Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (esp. Epilogue and Afterward)

FOREIGN NON-INTERVENTION – GENOCIDE / RWANDA

7.  Hotel Rwanda (also Sometimes in April) /  Samantha Power, ‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide.

NUCLEAR THREAT – PAST AND PRESENT

8.   Dr. Stangelove //  John Hersey, Hiroshima.

9.   Thirteen Days // Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Krushchev and Castro On the Brink of Nuclear War

10.  Last Best Chance and Dirty War //  Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe

TERRORIST THREAT – SUICIDE BOMBERS

11.  Paradise Now (also a Sri Lankan film The Terrorist) // Christoph Reuter, My Life is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing (also Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism)

FOREIGN INTERVENTION – COUNTERINSURGENCY / IRAQ

12.   Battle of Algiers // Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962

13.   No End in Sight ( besides Fog of War, the only other documentary film shown)/  Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (to be replaced by Ricks’ latest, The Gamble: Gen. David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008)

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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