Understanding America’s Longest War

May 25, 2012

Memorial Day in the United States is a time to remember those members of the military who have died in service to our country.  Originally known as Decoration Day, this federal holiday originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers as widows would turn out to decorate the graves.

In fact, as I write this, all available members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, are a just a mile away from GPO headquarters at Arlington National Cemetery, planting over 280,000 small U.S. flags—one at each grave marker— that will stay in place just for Memorial Day weekend, carrying on an annual “Flags In” tradition started in 1948.

Image: “Old Guard” soldier and son place flags in Arlington Cemetery during “Flags in”, Memorial Day 2008. Source: Arlington Cemetery FlickR

Remembering—and understanding—the war in Afghanistan

Many on this day take the time to reflect on the various military missions that resulted in the losses of brave service men and women, with our current war in Afghanistan offering the most recent opportunity for reflection.

A master at providing this analysis is Joseph J. Collins, author and professor at the National War College, who wrote the new book from the National Defense University called “Understanding War in Afghanistan” in order to provide military leaders, civil servants, diplomats, students and civilians the lessons in history of war and strife in that troubled nation.

Thoughtful questions, thought-provoking answers

Collins asks—and answers—a number of thought-provoking questions about the current war in Afghanistan:

  1. How did the United States and its allies get to where they are today?
  2. How can that coalition understand the many wars in Afghanistan over the past 33 years?
  3. How should it define its interests today?
  4. How can this coalition of nearly 50 nations help to bring this war to an end?

To answer these questions, Professor Collins provides both historical background and analysis to put it into context, finishing with a look towards possible next steps:

  • Chapter 1- Afghan history and culture:  Says Collins, “It is important to first examine the land, [the Afghan] people, and their culture.
  • Chapters 2 through 5- Prior wars: Next, Collins reviews the war-fraught Afghan history, the Soviet-Afghan War and the conflicts that followed it, including their Civil War, the rise of the Taliban, their role in 9/11, and the first war against the Taliban government.
  • Chapter 6- Insurgency: This chapter helps us “understand the basic theory and concepts that underpin Afghan counterinsurgency in the 21st century”.
  • Chapter 7 & 8- 2nd War against the Taliban, Rebuilding and the Surge: These chapters enable us to comprehend what happened during 2002-2010 as the coalition attempted to fight the Taliban while rebuilding this battle-weary land.
  • Chapter 9: – Assessment and Options:  Collins completes his book with a frank assessment of the “potential choices that national leaders face for the future” in Afghanistan.

Enduring lessons and legacy of Operation Enduring Freedom

Now in its twelfth year, the Afghanistan War is the longest war in U.S. history, surpassing even the Vietnam War.  Operation Enduring Freedom, with over 1,892 fallen servicemen and women just from the United States and over 1,000 casualties from other nations who form part of the coalition, is in the minds of many this Memorial Day.

Following the mantra of Spanish born American philosopher and writer George Santayana who wrote “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Understanding War in Afghanistan helps provide us the basis to learn the lessons of history in this particular conflict in order to inform our future course.

Dan Caldwell, Distinguished Professor at Pepperdine University, agrees, saying of Professor Collins’ book:

“This is the required text for ‘Afghanistan 101’—a primer that skillfully explains the realities of a complicated country and America’s longest war. It is written in a clear, informative way that is accessible to citizens, students, and civilian and military personnel who want or need to learn more about one of the most important issues of our time.”

What better way to remember those who have fallen in Afghanistan than to learn about the cause for which they sacrificed all?

How Do I Obtain Understanding War in Afghanistan?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Veterans Day and 100 Years of Flying Leathernecks

November 10, 2011

November 11, Americans celebrate Veterans Day, honoring the brave men and women who have served our Armed Forces in peacetime and in war.

This holiday dates back to the end of World War I when President Woodrow Wilson declared that this day be commemorated as Armistice Day after the warring sides declared an armistice:

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” (History.com)

Figure 1. Armistice Day poster. Source USFlagStore Blog

November 11th was celebrated as Armistice Day starting in 1919 and became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. After World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day in the United States. November 11 is still celebrated as Armistice Day in France and Belgium, but is called Remembrance Day today in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and is known as the Day of Peace in the Flanders Fields.

While Veterans Day is typically a tribute to America’s living veterans, it is always appropriate to include a moment of silence in respect for those who gave their lives for their country.

Honor veterans past and present by pausing for a minute of silence at 11:11 on 11/11/11, “the eleventh hour on the eleventh day on the eleventh month.” and in this case, the 11th year of the century as well!

The “War to End All Wars” instead gave birth to aerial warfare

Idealistically, many thought that “The Great War” would be “The War That Will End War” , a term first coined by famed British author H.G. Wells in 1914 and later used as “a war to end war” in a speech by President Wilson.

Instead of being the end of wars, World War I was a first in many ways, including the first war to feature the large scale use of manned aircraft for both reconnaissance and aerial combat.

It also marked the introduction of Marine Corps Aviation.

Happy 100th, Marine Corps Aviation!

2012 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Marine Corps Aviation. To commemorate this noteworthy milestone, the US Marine Corps has produced a remarkable new publication entitled 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History.

Figure 2. 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History

A stirring snapshot of some of the key people, aircraft, and events that comprise this first century of Marine aviation, this book showcases the achievements of Marine aviation through seldom seen photographs and accounts of pivotal battles and events.

Intended as a “museum in a book,” 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History includes an overview for each time period in Marine aviation, chapter introductions, feature articles, and a running timeline. A real plus is the bonus oral history CD that the Marine Corps has included in the back of the book, providing the text and photos along with first-hand accounts from select Marine aviators, which really bring the stories alive.

Particularly interesting are the exploits of legendary Marine aviators including Roy Geiger, Joseph Foss, Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Keith McCutcheon, Frank Petersen Jr., and others, including aviator-turned-astronaut John Glenn Jr., who besides being the first American to orbit the earth, wrote the foreword for this book.

First Flying Leatherneck

Featured in the book is the man who started it all: A.A. Cunningham. On May 22, 1912, two years before the outset of World War I, Alfred A. Cunningham, then a First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, first reported for “duty in connection with aviation”—i.e., flight instruction—to the new Naval Aviation Camp that had just been established at Annapolis, Maryland, home of the US Naval Academy.

Today considered “the father of Marine aviation,” Lt. Col. Alfred Austell Cunningham, better known to Marines as A.A. Cunningham, became the “de facto director of Marine Corps aviation.

Fun fact: A quick study, Cunningham received less than three hours of instruction before flying his first solo flight as a Marine aviator!

Figure 3. Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham floats in a Curtiss hydro-aeroplane in 1914.  Source: Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

Aces in the Air: The oldest Marine air attack squadron

Also mentioned in the publication is Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina, next to where I used to live in New Bern. MCAS Cherry Point is home to a number of Marine air squadrons, including VMAQ-1, VMAQ-2, VMA-223 and VMA-231, and hosts a phenomenal air show every year. Oo-rah to my old neighbors!

Formally established in 1919, Marine Attack Squadron 231 takes great pride in being the oldest squadron in the Marine Corps. After being re-designated the First Squadron, VMA-231 adopted the “Ace of Spades” moniker, since the Ace is the first card in the suit. The “A” in the upper left stands for “Air” and the “S” in the lower right stands for “Squadron”.

Figure 4. VMA-231 Ace of Spades logo. Source: Marine Corps

Where can you find this and other publications on aviation?

You can find 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History on our online bookstore, in a library, or at our retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401.

For regular updates about today’s naval and marine aviation, you may wish to subscribe to these excellent magazines from the Navy and Marine Corps: quarterly magazine Naval Aviation News: Flagship Publication of Naval Aviation or the bi-monthly Approach: The Navy & Marine Corps Aviation Safety Magazine.

Aviation fans and practitioners in general should check out our Aviation Publications Collection on our online bookstore with books on aviation past and present and information for pilots, balloonists, and more.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that you can sign up to receive Aviation email updates about new Federal Government aviation publications as they come out.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for marketing the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public. She is a fan of military aviation, from growing up near Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and watching Air Force One and the Blue Angels overhead, to living in New Bern, NC, near Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and watching the Harriers do practice fly over runs.


Benefits for Veterans

August 18, 2010

One of the great things about Government publications is that they’re the real deal: official, authoritative information on Federal programs – nothing fancy, just clearly presented facts, figures, and contact information. For instance, every year for I don’t know how many years (could anyone out there hazard a guess?), the Department of Veterans Affairs or its predecessor, the Veterans Administration, has issued a booklet  about the various services and programs available for veterans of the armed forces and their families.

Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors 2010 covers pensions, insurance, home loans, survivor benefits, military medals and records, and a lot more. In Chapter 4, Education and Training, you’ll find the latest information on the post-9/11 GI Bill. For wounded warriors, Chapter 10, Transition Assistance, talks about a re-launched Web site, the National Resource Directory (www.nationalresourcedirectory.gov), that “provides access to thousands of services and resources at the national, state and local levels to support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration.”

In short, this publication has the power to give millions of people the information they need to get the benefits they deserve. You can view it here in either English or Spanish, buy your own copy in English or Spanish, or locate it in a library.


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