Government publications sometimes seemed ripped from the headlines, like the oil spill and financial crisis reports I’ve blogged about recently. Even history can be amazingly contemporary, though, especially if the historian is working alongside those who make the history. The U.S. military has a tradition of embedding historians in its fighting units so they can record history as it happens. It’s a long way from academe to Iraq, but the opportunity to write “a first draft of history even as it unfolds” must be an alluring one.
Dale Andrade, who’s currently with the Army’s Center of Military History (CMH), knows all about that, I’m sure. In Surging South of Baghdad: The 3rd Infantry Division and Task Force Marne in Iraq, 2007-2008, he recounts the experience of one unit participating in its third deployment to Iraq. As CMH Chief Historian Richard W. Stewart notes in the Foreword, at this point in the Iraq War, “For better or worse, the George W. Bush administration decided to gamble on a troop increase, sending thirty thousand troops to Iraq in order to stop the bloodshed and bring stability to Baghdad and the surrounding area. By June 2007, they were all in place, and the so-called surge began.”
Surging South of Baghdad brings home the utter complexity of the political and military situation in Iraq. The Army had to be aware of a multiplicity of opponents, many of them working at cross-purposes with one another. These factions were and are political “improvised explosive devices” motivated by internal rivalries and conflicting ideologies that had to be understood to be combated effectively. But the book also portrays the human side of war: grief over dead comrades, the desire for payback, the need to understand and even empathize with civilian Iraqis who may or may not be trusted – all described in tandem with the strategic and tactical progress of the Division as part of the surge.
This book is a detailed look at how the surge was implemented from a “boots on the ground” viewpoint, enriched by the perspective that a participant with analytical skills can bring to the description of historical events – a tradition in writing military history since Thucydides. You can read it via the CMH Web site, get your own copy here, or find it at a library.