The End of War Reading List

soldier against a green sky

With the future of US forces in Afghanistan post-2014 still uncertain, I’ve been thinking about what it would mean to be on one of the last deployments there – someone is going to have to do it, after all.

Ex-blogger Andrew Exum once told me that the value that I would bring as an older, over-educated LT was that if I were to go to war, I’d know what books to read before going, or at least where to start looking.

When it comes to Middle East Studies, Afghanistan is on the fringe. If the field is a purely geographical one, it falls outside of the region unless you have a generous cartographer. If the field is thematic, then there are certainly things that bring Afghanistan into the fold. As it were, my schooling brought Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan in every now and then – but not often.

I could scour my bookshelf and pull out a dozen books about Afghanistan and start reading, but I think history and anthropology only go so far in a post-COIN/post-OBL 2014.

This is the End of War.

I’m turning to you, dear readers, to help me out in recommending books that you think would be beneficial to a young leader going to Afghanistan. It doesn’t have to be Afghanistan specific – it can be about anything – but I’m hoping to build the definitive list of books that would prepare that young leader for a contemporary deployment to Afghanistan. That list, I am sure, is different from the list that would exist for a different young leader deploying in 2003, 2007, or 2011.

The first book I’ve pulled off of my shelf is “Into the Land of Bones,” a gift from a friend back in New York. I haven’t read it yet.

Please leave your recommendations in the comments. I’ll add my own recommendations as I find them and write short reviews as I finish them.

Update: I’m getting lots of recommendations – some will go on the list, others will go “on deck,” because I’m not quite sure yet.

The End of War Reading List

Into the Land of Bones (gift from a friend) – currently reading
The Defense of Jisr Al-Doreea (recommended by a couple of friends)
The Massacre at El Mozote (recommended by Matthew Bradley)
Every War Must End (recommended by Jason Lemieux)
Black Hearts (recommended by “Jim”)
Can Intervention Work (recommended by “Lincoln”)
A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (recommended by Robert)
Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking (recommended by Laura and a friend)
Friend by Day, Enemy by Night: Organized Vengeance in a Kohistani Community (recommended by Laura)
War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (recommended by Joao Hwang)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms (recommended by Joao Hwang)
The Forever War (recommended by Shelly)
How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle (recommended by Tim Mathews)

“On Deck”

The Operators (recommended by Nathalie)
The Liberation Trilogy (recommended by Allen)
The Village (recommended by Robert)
Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop (recommended by “Kyle”)
The Junior Officer’s Reading Club (recommended by “Kyle”)
The Enlightened Soldier – Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 (recommended by Laura)
Storm Troop Tactics: Innovation in the German Arm (recommended by Laura)
Utility of Force; Art of War in the Modern World (recommended by Laura)
The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (recommended by Laura)
Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power (recommended by Laura)
Brave New World (recommended by a fellow infantry officer)
Sympathy for the Devil (recommended by Wesley Morgan)

Just for fun

All You Need Is Kill
The Stranger

Enjoy the posts? Subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Success! You're on the list.

Ma’salaama, Abu Muqawama!

lego businessman
The New and Improved Abu Muqawama

I read today that Abu Muqawama is shutting down.

Without question, there is no military blogger out there that influenced my own decision to blog than Andrew Exum. He is a Middle East scholar and ex-infantryman and a clear trailblazer for those leaving the service who were/are interested in studying the Middle East. He paved a way to do it and it was easy to follow.

I am fortunate to have met Andrew on a couple of occasions and just missed him once in London when he was passing through. It would have been out of control.

My favorite Abu Muqawama post was this one, which was a simple picture criticizing the botched Israeli boarding of the Mavi Marama back in 2010. Ex was at his best when he was able to mix his military experience with his Middle East expertise and get it out there in a way that was accessible and fun for everyone else to digest.

He hinted in his post that he’s heading to the “private sector” – so I hope he’ll consider changing his now-famous “Lego terrorist” avatar to something like the one posted above.

Ma’salaama, Abu Muqawama! And good luck!

Enjoy the posts? Subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Success! You're on the list.

This “total war on Islam” nonsense

I saw the article at Danger Room titled “U.S. Military Taught Officers: Use ‘Hiroshima’ tactics for ‘Total War’ on Islam” shortly after it was posted. I took a deep breath, fired it off on Twitter disgustedly, and then went to work. Since then, some friends have prompted me for my opinion on the matter and a number of other blogs I read have referenced the article (Mondoweiss, The Arabist).

Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama) writes:

“Plenty of U.S. military officers and troops were inspired by their service in either Iraq or Afghanistan to learn Arabic or Dari and study the peoples of the region. I left the Army in 2004, as a matter of fact, to pursue a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut,” says Andrew Exum, a retired Army captain who now serves as a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “But plenty of other officers and troops began their own amateurish studies of Islam and now, like Lt. Col. Dooley, peddle claims to know the truth about the violence and hatred at the heart of Islam. Pope’s warning that a little learning can be a dangerous thing is certainly relevant here. These hucksters, like the Robert Spencers of the world, know just enough to make themselves sound credible to an uninformed audience and hide their prejudices under a thin layer of amateurish, ideologically motivated scholarship.”

Like Exum, I was inspired by my service in Iraq to go and study the Middle East and Arabic – mostly because I saw firsthand how much we didn’t know. As a result, I studied abroad in Morocco and Egypt and did my masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where I wrote my thesis on the experiences of Iraqi soldiers during the Iran-Iraq War. On this blog I write about military things and Middle Eastern things. As much as I hate getting into these kinds of weeds, this blog sits at exactly the intersection of the military and Middle East Studies (a very uncomfortable intersection, mind you). What I’ve found is that this subject is extremely sensitive for everyone involved. People hold strong opinions on this, for whatever reason.

So here’s what I think.

Exum is right, over the past ten years there has been a cadre of opportunists who took advantage of the the military’s thirst for knowledge on a subject they know relatively little about (Islam) and used that opportunity to spread their own ideas of what Islam is and how to best fight the war on terror. For a long period of time, these guys went unnoticed (internally, anyway), probably because there weren’t many people to call their bluff. This course in question was pulled after an unnamed officer who took the course alerted someone higher to the objectionable curriculum. I’d be willing to bet that he had taken some courses on Islam or the Middle East before (or maybe he just understood that ‘total war’ on an entire people based on their religion was not a good thing).

Thankfully, General Dempsey already came out and condemned the coursework that Danger Room uncovered as “objectionable, against our values” and “academically unsound.” The Department of Defense is currently conducting a review of material to root out any traces of material that is combative towards Islam or rooted in some kind of Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, as most of the headlines regarding this incident inferred that the US military was indoctrinating its officers with this viewpoint, when that’s not the case. Outsiders looking in read the headline, read the article, and then conclude that what they’ve always thought was true: the US is at war with Islam or the military is filled with Islamophobes. This is unfortunate, because neither is true, and events like this degrades the way the public views the military.

But this incident points to a larger issue that exists, which I wrote about previously in the infidel post. There is still a poor understanding of the peoples of the Middle East and Islam as a religion within the armed forces and this poor understanding can manifest itself in ugly ways.

Why does this happen? My hunch tells me that people want to explain difficult things away by going for the low hanging fruit – “they” hate us because of their religion, or their culture, or worst of all, “they” are violent by nature. Fighting is hard, and everyone has to reconcile why they do it in their own heads at some point. Fighting a war on global terrorism, a vague thing in-itself hardly provides a person a good starting point to why he or she is wherever they are in the world fighting whoever it is he/she is fighting. But if they are fighting someone because that other person automatically hates our way of life, or that person is inherently violent or evil, it makes the process a whole lot easier.

Simply stated, it’s easy to blame complex phenomena on one’s culture or religion. Unfortunately, that’s wrong. Following that path 1) won’t work, 2) is wrong, and 3) will piss everyone off.

While this revelation is a public relations setback, I think it is bringing to the surface an important issue which can now be rapidly addressed. I know I’m doing my part.

Enjoy the posts? Subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Success! You're on the list.