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Over the Horizon: From Pulp Fiction to Foreign Policy

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011

In 1903, the novel "Riddle of the Sands" was published to great acclaim in the United Kingdom. Written by Erskine Childers, the novel told the story of a secret German invasion flotilla prepared to overrun Great Britain. The best of a large genre of "invasion literature" warning in dire terms of the threat that Kaiserine Germany posed to the British Empire, "Riddle of the Sands" apparently helped convince First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to reposition the Royal Navy to northern bases, safe from German attack.

In a paper presented at the 2011 American Political Science Association conference, Dr. Kelly Greenhill invoked the example of "Riddle of the Sands" in support of an argument about the impact of fiction on strategic thought. Greenhill's paper, part of a larger book project, is one of a growing family of academic literature to study the interaction of popular culture and state policy. Other examples include Dan Nexon and Iver Neumann's edited volume "Harry Potter and International Relations," and Dan Drezner's "Theories of International Politics and Zombies." While many of these works attempt to evaluate foreign policy or civil-military relations in light of specific works of popular culture, Greenhill's work tries to draw direct links between policy and fiction more generally. Given what we know about the viewing habits of contemporary foreign policy analysts, attention to the subject is probably overdue. ...

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