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.


Steve Jobs and our Innovation Nation

October 11, 2011

Last week we lost one of America’s great geniuses of innovation, Apple’s founder and CEO, Steve Jobs.

I can remember each time I first used one of Apple’s products. While working for IBM as a systems engineer right out of college and working with both mainframe systems and some not-always-so-friendly early PC operating systems (remember DOS?), I got to use a friend’s Macintosh and was blown away by how easy it was to use. Fast forward through the introduction of the iPod; iTunes online music and apps store; the iPhone—the first touchscreen smartphone; and now the iPad, first touchscreen tablet; and we now have a world that couldn’t conceive of life without Steve Jobs’ innovations.

One of Jobs’ secret to success was treating Apple as an idea and business incubator to continually research and fund what could possibly be the “next great thing” in the future, but was still only a germ of an idea from some engineer or scientist.

The Federal Government as an Incubator of Innovation

Like Apple, one of the key roles of the US Federal Government is to serve as an incubator of innovation.

Here at GPO, for example, we are embracing innovation by producing eBooks, digital downloads, information portals and databases in response to the changing needs of our increasingly digital society, which have been driven in part by Apple inventions introduced by Steve Jobs.

Most of the work products from the Federal Government can be and are used freely by private industry or other areas of Government to spur their own innovations. From statistics to research, processes to products, the Government has provided the seeds to innovation for American industry throughout the years.

Looking through our recent catalog on the US Government Bookstore website, I came across these publications which provide examples of innovation both within the Federal Government and in partnership with the private sector:

 
  • Spinoff Innovative Partnerships Program 2009, provides an in-depth look at how NASA’s initiatives in aeronautics and space exploration have resulted in beneficial commercial technologies in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental protection, computer technology and industrial productivity.  Some innovation spinoffs over the years include:
    • lightweight breathing system adapted for firefighters;
    • Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric for astronaut spacesuits is now used as a permanent roofing material for buildings and stadiums;
    • remote-controlled robotic arms are now being used for robotic surgical operations; and
    • artificial heart pump based on the design of NASA’s space shuttle main engine fuel pumps.
    • You can get a print copy of this book now at the US Government Bookstore or find it in a library.
 
 

About the Author:  I am Michele Bartram, Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division.  My duties include marketing for the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public. Due to the retirement of Jim Cameron, my duties now also include taking the helm as Blogger for Government Book Talk. I have been in the Internet marketing and ecommerce field for over 15 years.

We at GPO wish Jim all the best in his retirement, and will continue to do our best to spotlight the amazing variety of Government publications and their impact on ourselves and our world – and have fun while doing it.

 



Partnering in Latin America’s Defense

April 27, 2011

Anyone reading the international news these days knows about the turmoil currently engulfing a number of nations in the Middle East. In fact, for the past decade, it’s hard to think of a time when the headlines weren’t about some hot spot or another in that volatile part of our world. This wouldn’t surprise the Latin Americanists among us; it sometimes seems that the Southern Hemisphere is terra incognita for the media.

That’s one reason why Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command is so refreshing. This new book from the National Defense University, written by Admiral James G. Stavrides, formerly in charge of the Southern Command, focuses on the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean as if they are more than just “America’s backyard” – a phrase that the author dislikes intensely. He sees this area as “our shared home” – shared with nations that take enormous pride in their histories and cultures and sometimes view their large North American co-tenant with some misgivings. Partly this is due to another misconception: “all the countries down there are pretty much the same.” Partnership for the Americas is adamant that the diverse languages and cultures in the hemisphere all deserve greater study and respect.

In this post-Cold war era, concerns about subversion have been replaced by what the book sees as the real issues – gangs, drugs, and crime. After citing some appalling statistics about the international drug trade as it affects the Southern hemisphere, it points to developments in trafficking that require more than a local or even regional response. Take, for instance, the SPSS, or self-propelled semi-submersible (left). These drug-transporting vessels, about 60 to 80 feet long, transport tons of cocaine, are almost invisible from any distance, and  designed to be scuttled at their destination or if intercepted by any military or police vessels. It’s easy to see how the Navy might be helpful here!

Partnership for the Americas also focuses on the need to be aware of human rights issues, the role of Southern Command personnel in health care and humanitarian relief efforts, and innovation in the way the military interacts with other nations to accomplish mutually desirable aims. It’s a thoughtful book that policymakers, members of the military, and anyone interested in this part of the world could benefit from reading. You can browse through it here, get a copy here, or locate it in a library.


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