Book Review — Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Beth Bailey and Richard H. ...

Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan edited by Beth Bailey and Richard H. Immerman is a collection of essays examining America’s last decade and half of war. Bailey is Professor of History at Temple University. Immerman is Professor of History, Edward Buthusiem Distinguished Faculty Fellow, and Marvin Wachman Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University and the Francis W. De Serio Chair of Strategic and Theater Intelligence at the Army War College.

The collected essays are an in-depth and scholarly report of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. The essays cover all aspects of America’s involvement including historical interventions going back to the installation of the Shah. America’s twentieth-century involvement and mis-involvement in the region are covered and set the stage for twenty-first-century participation. The interconnectedness of the Shah, the Iranian hostage situation, the Iran- Iraq War, support for the Muhajireen, Desert Shield, form the knot tying the United States to the current wars.

Reasons for invading Iraq and putting Afghanistan on the back burner are explained in practical political terms. It’s easier to focus a nation’s attention on an evil leader bunkered down in a defined nation than on a transnational terror group whose leader evaded successfully evaded US capture. Other aspects of the war that are discussed are the treatment of veterans and the “I support the troops” (until they come home and need help) campaign. The veterans who returned came back with a variety of disabilities both physical and mental and how these issues are being covered are part of an essay. With each war, we fight we see a greater number of returning veterans with problem adapting back to society. Mechanization and killing from a distance does little to curb these issues.

On the home front, the war had its own effect. America loves media and although several movies made on the two recent wars none of them were successful. The first-hand account of Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright’s Generation Kill comes first to my mind. It seemed to capture being a Marine much more than portraying the war as a noble cause. Novels took a rather bleak look at the war also. The Yellow Birds and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk are not the rally around the flag type books that support a nation’s war. Perhaps news reporting was enough to remind America of the war.

Understanding the US Wars covers all aspects of the America’s 21st-century wars. Scholars write on more than just the physical war, but at ancillary aspects of the war. The use of different essays on different topics help give a complete picture of the war and its effects. Very well done and an enlightening read.

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