Date of Award

Fall 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Kurkpartick Dorsey

Second Advisor

Jason Sokol

Third Advisor

Ellen Fitzpatrick


This thesis explores the framing of conflict after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and more specifically, during President George W. Bush’s first term in office. Notions of American exceptionalism touched upon every facet of the nation’s response to the attacks, providing guidance, identity and resolve in the history of the Good War. The immediate tethering of Pearl Harbor and September 11 in the national discourse exemplified the foremost role that nostalgia would play in not only making sense of the attacks but devising a response to them. This thesis recovers what was lost to those destructive comforts in the collective memory. Indeed, the Bush administration, led by Bush and the unprecedentedly powerful Dick Cheney, saw opportunity in tragedy, and successfully used the fear and anger elicited by the attacks to extend the Bush Doctrine to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For Bush in particular, however, the war in Iraq was also a divine one — a self-professed mission from God. The conflict, he pledged, would liberate the Iraqi people from the barbarous Ba’ath regime and bring democracy to the Middle East. Images of American torture released from the Abu Ghraib prison, however, fiercely contradicted the president’s narrative. Time and again, the war on terrorism was framed as a good war. This thesis explains where that term came from, how it influenced the framing of conflict after the terrorist attacks, and who, ultimately, the war was good for.