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.


Vote for the top Government news story of 2011

December 26, 2011

2011 was a momentous year in Federal Government-related news and as such, it was a banner year for important Government publications, as demonstrated by our 2011 Year in Review collection available from the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO).

But which Government news story was the most significant, in your opinion? Vote in our poll below, and then see the publications that follow that relate to these important stories:

Note 1:As of January 27, 2012, this poll is NOW CLOSED with the final results showing above, but feel free to click on the SHARE THIS link to pass on the results to others.
Note 2: This is a non-scientific user poll. Results are not statistically valid and cannot be assumed to reflect the views of the Government Printing Office customer as a group or the general population.

Following are the Federal Government publications that relate to each of these important 2011 stories:

2011 News Story   Related Federal Publication(s)
9/11 tenth anniversary   Ten years have passed since that tragic day, but the memories are still strong. 2011 saw some excellent publications about that day, including a 10th anniversary edition of Pentagon 9/11 and a reprinting of the 9/11 Commission Report, all of which you can find in our 9/11 Collection: A Decade of Remembrance.

Assassination of Osama bin Laden  FBI Terrorism Research and Analysis Project (TRAP) A Navy SEALS team located and killed Osama bin Laden this year, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and many other Al Qaeda and insurgent terrorist attacks. This 2011 publication, Terrorism Research and Analysis Project (TRAP): A Collection of Research Ideas, Thoughts, and Perspectives, V. 1analyzes causes and possible responses to terrorism as presented at the FBI Terrorism Research and Analysis Project (TRAP) Symposium of international academics and law enforcement personnel.

Death of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il   The recent death of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, marks an uncertain time for the Korean Peninsula and the entire region. North Korea: A Country Studyreviews the history and the dominant social, political, economic, and military aspects of contemporary North Korea before this.

Deep Water BP Gulf oil disaster report  Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, Report to the President, January 2011 In January of this year, the National Commission on the BP (British Petroleum) Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released its controversial Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, Report to the President, January 2011. This best-selling publication offers the fullest account available of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 and why, and proposes actions, changes in company behavior, reform of government oversight, and investments in research and technology that will be required to avert future disasters.

End of the war in Iraq  Battleground Iraq: Journal of a Company Commander There is an interesting White House timeline about the Iraq war at the end of which is a link to the Joining Forces initiative with which one can express one’s support for the troops. GPO’s bookstore has a number of books about Iraq, but two stand out as best-sellers. Battleground Iraq: Journal of a Company Commander gives a realistic account by Major Todd Brown of his experiences as a U.S. Army company commander in Iraq from April 2003 to March 2004. Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experienceexamines the Iraq reconstruction experience, and provides 13 take-away lessons for future contingency relief and reconstruction operations.

  • Buy them in our online bookstore:

a)      Battleground Iraq: Journal of a Company Commander

b)      Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience

Japan earthquake and tsunami  Field Operations Guide for Foreign Disaster Assessment and Response Natural disasters were big in the news this year, and the Federal Government was involved in responding to them, from the National Guard in the U.S. to foreign response teams overseas. For example, in response to the tragic earthquake and resulting tsunami and nuclear reactor problems in Japan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) that included disaster response experts, urban search and rescue teams, and nuclear experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Field Operations Guide for Disaster Assessment and Responseis used by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for DART teams and other disaster assistance personnel when responding to foreign disasters like the Japan situation.

Last Space Shuttle flight  NASA and Space Shuttle publications including "Wings-in-Orbit" 2011 marked the end of NASA’s three-decade long space shuttle program when, on July 21, the final space shuttle mission ended with the shuttle Atlantis rolling to a stop at its home port, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA has published a number of terrific books about the program which you can find in our NASA and Space Shuttle Publications, along with a new set of beautiful color bookmarks, one for each shuttle and the best-selling Wings in Orbitbook.

U.S. economy and the Federal budget  Books about Government and Politics, including the Federal Budget and the Economy It seems every newscast this year has covered the US economy, Federal Government budgets and deficits and differing opinions about options to address them. You can find the President’s original budget submission published this year and subsequent analyses and responses to it in our collection of Books about the Government and Politics, including the Federal Budget and the Economy.

How can you find even more Federal Government publications? We have assembled many collections of Federal publications on our year-round Gift Guide and in our Special Collections page on GPO’s online bookstore.

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. 

 


Are We Really Prepared for the Worst?

July 13, 2011

Guest Blogger Matthew Brentzel takes a look at the capabilities of U.S. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) response teams.

Every so often, I look back on those horrific atrocities committed on September 11, 2001.  I remember being in middle school, where the teachers were reluctant to inform us of what was going on.  I also remember the news stories questioning the capability of our country to deal with such a catastrophe.  Although we are surrounded by fear and uncertainty in trying times, we can always find relief by looking towards the brave men and women that put their lives on the line for the good of our country.

Events like this have occurred before.  I’ve heard stories from my grandparents about Pearl Harbor and the impact it had on history.  We can all agree that these events were truly awful, but we must also accept the fact that we live in troubled times and events like these may be minor compared to the crises that could occur.  Are We Prepared?: Four WMD Crises that could Transform U.S. Security, by the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction takes a stab at discussing this heated topic in a serious but effective manner.

I really want to stress “serious, but effective.”  Through a series of four crisis scenarios, Are We Prepared? looks at such issues as nuclear proliferation, the release of chemical weapons, and even a nuclear explosion in a major city.  Perhaps most of us are more inclined to worry about preventing these events rather than preparing to respond to them, but there are times when prevention is not enough and response is necessary.  While reading this book, at first I was taken aback by its willingness to accept the possible losses in one of the scenarios, but this approach enlightens the reader by stressing the high importance of applying appropriate countermeasures. This clear, concise report delves into four different crisis simulations in detail, including preventative measures and how we can be ready to counter such events.  It also goes on to discuss the policy implications of each of these crises for the United States as a whole.

Perhaps the frightening subject matter may prevent some from reading it, but Are We Prepared? documents what we need to do to succeed in the future against an enemy for whom we perhaps can never be fully prepared.  In addition, although at first I was reluctant to believe it, this book helped me realize that we will be able to move on as a nation even though the events it describes could severely alter our future.  The only question is, “Are we prepared?”

If you are interested in politics or international relations, you can find this fascinating book on the US Government Printing Office online bookstore or browse it in a library.


Terrorists as Armed Groups

November 1, 2010

I can’t think of too many Government publications that cover pirates, Vikings, the Teutonic Knights, the Italian Red Brigades, the Irish Republican Army, and the Taliban in one volume, but that’s what Armed Groups: Studies in National Security, Counterterrorism, and Counterinsurgency does. Published by the Naval War College, it’s a collection of essays by noted experts that expands our view of “terrorism” by using the term “armed groups,” which includes classic insurgents, terrorists, guerrillas, militias, police agencies, criminal organizations, mercenaries, pirates, drug cartels, apocalyptic religious extremists, orchestrated rioters and mobs, and tribal factions. Once you start reading, it’s hard to stop, although it’s certainly not light entertainment.

For me, the scariest essays were those dealing with domestic armed groups, like militias, white supremacist groups, and large organized street gangs. Although a lot of the examples mentioned were familiar to me, such as the post 9/11 anthrax scare and the arrest in subsequent years of several biological terrorist wannabes – seeing all of the examples assembled in one place convinced me of one author’s contention that domestic armed groups are no less menacing than the international organizations that get so much media exposure.

Armed Groups is a rich source for all kinds of background on the use of violence by the politically powerless and the broad array of organizations that practice it. It may not help you sleep better at night to know that such groups are so prevalent, but it’s indispensable information for anyone who wants to delve beneath the surface of an often-described but not always well-understood cultural, sociological, and political phenomenon. The book’s editor, Jeff Norwitz, has posted chapters on his own Web site. You also can browse Armed Groups here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library here.


Responding to Terrorist Attacks

August 11, 2010

This week’s student intern guest blogger is Phil Marcus, a rising junior at James Madison University.

The title I’m blogging about, Emergency Response to Terrorism: Job Aid (ERT), was first printed in May of 2000.  While I don’t know how well it was selling at the time, I’m sure that sales greatly rose after 9-11. 

This little comb-bound booklet goes into great detail about the steps and procedures that should be taken to deal with a terrorist attack.  Whether toxic or explosive, this publication covers it all.  As we well know, acts of terrorism can occur at any time, and without much warning. 

A very important point is that Emergency Response to Terrorism: Job Aid, goes into detail about how to preserve evidence from an act of terrorism.  This surely is an asset, because without evidence no crimes can be traced back to the responsible party.  Almost anything can be considered evidence, especially items such as the ‘black box’ from the 9-11 attacks that is carried in every airplane.   If these boxes had not been found after 9-11, much of the information we have now on the attacks would have ever been known. The ERT deals with many similar issues.

I think  the ERT is a must read for anyone interested in obtaining knowledge about how to deal with acts of terrorism – specifically how to respond, as a citizen, to an act of terrorism. Copies can be purchased on our website, reviewed at the FEMA Web site, or in libraries.


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