My father returned to the United States from the Great War in Europe with a leg full of lead, a chest full of medals, and a head full of demons. He was one of the lucky survivors. Once a year, he attended a meeting of his old regiment to remember the men they had lost and honor the peace they had learned to cherish. The occasion was then called Armistice Day, a day dedicated not to war but to war’s end.
Every year he pinned a blood red paper poppy to his lapel and went off to celebrate peace with his fellow veterans, even though the meetings sometimes seemed to trigger nightmares that caused him to destroy a hotel room or leap from a window, still asleep.
I can’t say exactly when the U.S. military brought that swagger to Kabul. But by 2004 the Americans were there behind the walls of fortified urban bases, behind concrete barriers and gigantic sandbags at armed checkpoints, blocking traffic, and closing thoroughfares. Their convoys were racing at top speed through city streets with machine-gunners on alert in the turrets of their armored vehicles. Women half-blind under their burqas brought their children to guide them across suddenly dangerous streets.
As a prelude to Veterans Day, here’s my (somewhat truncated) review of David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Finkel has given us an important book about the toll that the Iraq War took on Americans who served there, but we still await books written with the same depth, care, empathy and literary polish as Thank You for Your Service about Iraqi women killed at American checkpoints, Iraqi men killed by local militias, Iraqi boys killed by car bombs, desperate and homeless Iraqi girls forced into prostitution, Iraqi families chased from their neighborhoods - that is, all those people who didn’t travel halfway around the world to invade, occupy and sometimes kill, but nonetheless found themselves traumatized by the war.
Close to 100 fighters from eight rebel brigades gathered in a field in the outskirts of Hama province, Syria, on Monday, October 28, 2013 promising to open routes for humanitarian aid in the province. The rebels announced they were uniting to form a new force called “Liwaa Mujahideen Hama” or “Brigade of Fighters in Hama.” At the meeting, LMH officials said the coalition would be able to organize safe passage for aid workers throughout Idlib. Fighters compared weapons and socialized.
Exclusive: The CIA, Not The Pentagon, Will Keep Running Obama’s Drone War
Earlier this year, official White House “leaks” spread the word that it, in the interests of transparency, drone operations (that is, targeted killings) would be shifted from the CIA to the Department of Defense. Turns out, that’s not going to happen. Foreign Policy reports that “the complexity of the issue, the distinct operational and cultural differences between the Pentagon and CIA and the bureaucratic politics of it all has forced officials on all sides to recognize transferring drone operations from the Agency to the Defense Department represents, for now, an unattainable goal.”
It was like a week-long Taliban recruiting drive. And we had fun doing it. I love recruiting for the Taliban. It’s called job security
I’m proud to have played a small role in publishing Ann Jones’ new book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars. It’s an absolutely amazing piece of reporting that takes you from the front lines in Afghanistan (where Jones was a 73-year-old embed) to hospitals there and in Germany and back to the USA, where veterans struggle to remake their shattered lives.
Andrew J. Bacevich, retired Army colonel and author of the recent New York Times bestseller Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country said of it: “Read this unsparing, scathingly direct, and gut-wrenching account — the war Washington doesn’t want you to see. Then see if you still believe that Americans ‘support the troops.’”
You can buy the book here and here.
The idea that foreign journalists just lurk in their hotels in Damascus, Baghdad or Kabul is absurd. A more substantive charge is that they write too much about firefights and skirmishes, the fireworks of war, while neglecting the broader picture that might determine the outcome. ‘My newspaper doesn’t do what it calls “bang-bang” journalism,’ one correspondent said grandly, explaining why none of his colleagues was covering the fighting in Syria first-hand. But the ‘bang-bang’ matters: war may not be explicable without the politics, but the politics can’t be understood without the war. Early on in the occupation of Iraq I went to al-Dohra power station in Baghdad after one American soldier was shot dead there and another wounded. This was the small change of incipient guerrilla war, but the approval of local people as they stood around the pool of dried blood on the pavement was significant. ‘We are very poor but we will celebrate by cooking a chicken,’ one man said. ‘God willing, there will be more actions like this.’
The most sinister change in the way war is perceived springs from what two years ago seemed to be a wholly positive development. Satellite television and the use of information supplied by YouTube, bloggers and social media were portrayed as liberating innovations. The monopoly on information imposed by police states from Syria to Egypt and Bahrain to Tunisia had been broken. But as the course of the uprising in Syria has shown, satellite television and the internet also spread propaganda and hate. Fraudulent atrocity stories have an effect on a war: a Libyan militiaman who believes that the government soldiers he is fighting are under orders to rape his wife and daughters isn’t going to take many prisoners.
A rave review of Ann Jones’ new book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars by David Swanson. I’m proud to have had a small role in bringing this book into being and urge you pick up a copy. It’s an absolutely amazing piece of reporting that takes you from the front lines in Afghanistan (where Jones was a 73-year-old embed) to hospitals there and in Germany, to ultimately, the USA, where veterans struggle to remake their shattered lives. Swanson calls the book “devastating” and says “Know a young person considering joining the military? Give them this book.” I couldn’t agree more!
You can buy the book here and here.