From Political Science and History courses: words to students



A little self indulgence here. This is a list constructed for American foreign policy (HISTORY-POLITICS 367) students. But it is shared with students of all my courses. Not to be read at one sitting, but let me know what you think. And questions/ suggestions to add.

Some Serious Questions to Think About from This Course



  1. The U.S. has surely done some good in the world: WWII, WWI, United Nations, idea of League, foreign aid, Marshall Plan. How does this measure up against “Not Good” things we have studied—or will? For you. Say “Vietnam or the Philippines 1901”.


  1. Kissinger and McNamara have said in different ways that foreign policy choices are often choices between the lesser of evils? Do you agree? An example might be the use of bombing to hasten the end of war and the slaughter on the ground going on in Europe. Or Vietnam.


  1. The US has crossed borders to intervene in far more foreign countries than, say, the USSR or China in the last 80 years. It might be argued that US interventions have often been for good causes or had good effects. Yet others disagree and say most interventions have not been worth it—or legal. What for You think—are some interventions beneficial and others not? Which?


  1. Much of the debate in this class and in the conversation nationally about American foreign policy has been carried on with the assumption that the US has a moral compass and a sense of fair play that make Its military interventions more reasonable and less self-serving than most. What do You think?


  1. Have American students and the American public been “lied to” by the media and by common national beliefs and history books. Can you think of an example of something you have been read or taught about American conduct that you have come to see as misleading or just wrong.


  1. I say, as your professor, that the US has a better than average record as a great power in the moderation of its ‘big power maneuvers’. I also say that, for whatever the reason, my research and the record demonstrates clearly that the US government and military, with the general approval of the US people and media, have been responsible for the deaths of at least 7 million foreign civilians in the 20th and 21st So….?


And I say that whatever you think the justification or necessity for these civilian casualties has been, the bodies we’ve created are just as dead as those killed by Russians, Germans, Chinese, Napoleon, Genghis Khan and so on. So are there defensible deaths, “good deaths” caused by great powers? Are there necessary civilian deaths?


  1. You are the president. You are faced with the choice of killing foreign individuals to save American lives. This could be Obama targeting suspect terrorists (but hitting some civilians) in Yemen with drones, or Clinton and Bush starving Iraqi civilians with an embargo (1990-2003) put in place as retribution for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (1990), or Roosevelt-Truman choosing to firebomb Japanese and German cities and hundreds of thousands, Millions of civilians, in the hope of ending the war sooner and perhaps saving tens of thousands of American MILITARY lives. Good practice? Fair? Moral?



  1. What area of the World has provided the most challenges for the US in its history (decade by decade. What area will be most likely to present future problems for American foreign policy and why? China/North Korea? Why? Latin America? Why? Africa? Why? The Middle East? Why? Australia? Why? (no just kidding?).


  1. Ask yourself: why do I feel about politics and the world as I do? (and do the same every 5 years for life). Parents? Peers? Travel? Where you grew up? Your personal finances? Significant other? Influential book? You might even try to construct a mental pie-chart of how much you think some of these things have influenced you. This is about self-awareness, consciousness, “going deep.” You do not have to be a politics or history “junkie” to benefit from this. Remember that many of our political views come from the gut, not the head—or at least the Unconscious,


  1. The analyst Ian Bremer has written a book that projects 3 models of foreign relations for the US (you might even so foreign Conduct) for the near future, the post Obama decades: 1. The US continuing as Superpower and doer of great and constructive deeds on the world stage (“INDISPENSIBLE AMERICA”), 2. The US as a practical traditional power mainly focused on economic advantage and developing its own well-being …”MONEYBALL AMERICA” The  US as a state mor detached from other countries, cooperating in trade and moral causes, but refraining from active use of its military (which may still be very strong) INDEPENDENT AMERICA.


  1. What about the theory mentioned in the first class about HISTORY as a saga of criminality. This need not be depressing and it does not deny human goodness, achievement, ingenuity. It is just a useful mental exercise, I think especially for 21st Century Americans, to remember the effects of war, disease, imperialism, or more specifically, the consequences of personalities such as Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, the German Kaiser, Theodore Roosevelt (usually you either like him a lot, or you don’t), conquests, interventions, human rights violations against: indigenous people, women, children, people of certain races and ethnicities, The Other.


  1. Most Americans are weak on world geography. Don’t be one of them! A mark of an educated person and respect for the world community is to know the names and whereabouts of as many countries as you can. Then brush up on mountain ranges, rivers, bodies of water, deserts, etc. You may end up going to some of these places. Or flying over them! This is not about memorization. It’s about exploration: try a globe or an atlas. Get away from behind that computer if you can. Not like this list. All typed out on a laptop.

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