Sunday, September 05, 2021

A 9/11 wars after-action assessment and more

In the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada, the highly regarded non-fiction book reviewer, has written an insightful survey of some of the literature of the War on Terror: 9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed.

Some telling excerpts; I highly recommend the whole:

Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness. ... 
...  In these works, indifference to the growing terrorist threat gives way to bloodlust and vengeance after the attacks. Official dissembling justifies wars, then prolongs them. In the name of counterterrorism, security is politicized, savagery legalized and patriotism weaponized. It was an emergency, yes, that’s understood. But that state of exception became our new American exceptionalism. 
... The message was unmistakable: The law is an obstacle to effective counterterrorism. Worrying about procedural niceties is passe in a 9/11 world, an annoying impediment to the essential work of ass-kicking.
Lozada has chosen a valuable catalogue of horrors to highlight -- but I can't help mourning what's missing from it. In addition to these book-length journalistic critiques -- "just the facts" deeply reported if morally informed -- the "War on Terror" has left us with a vast literature in a number of genres.
• There was the deeply disillusioned, essentially conservative, military take from retired colonel Andrew Bacevich in America's War for the Greater Middle East
• The grunts on the ground have tried to explain what the war meant in their lives. In What It's Like to Go to War,  Karl Marlantes compares his war -- Vietnam -- with the experiences of another generation of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. 
• Joshua E.S. Phillips tells the story of U.S. soldiers and torture in a painful, caring little volume, None of Us Were Like This Before. This one deserved more visibility than it seemed to get. 
• National Book Award judges did take notice of a truly successful fictional portrait an enlisted man's mindset: Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk. Highly recommended, especially for football fans. 
Union Square, New York City, September 22, 2001.
I don't think we have yet a broad, thoughtful, book-length account of the citizen peace movement in this country against the War on Terror and its permutations. There were always nay-sayers from the first moments after 9/11, while the Towers site still smoldered. Those masks date from 2001.

In early 2008, I assembled a five part series on the peace movement for a conference of Historians Against the War. Looking these posts over more than 10 years later, they still provide a decent survey in what turned out to be still early days.
Part One: Trying to find the ground under our feet: 2001-2002  
Part Two: Afghanistan and the Iraq invasion; the antiwar movement builds some infrastructure and tries some initiatives: 2002-2003  
Part Three: Liberal elites get the bad news: U.S. has "lost" Iraq war; Presidential election subsumes activism: 2004-2005  
Part Four: Peace movement finds causes to support; Insurgent new Democrats and a counterculture emerge: 2005-2008  
Part Five: Lessons: 2001-2008
The grouplet that called itself Historians against the War now calls itself Historians for Peace and Democracy. This seems on point twenty years after 9/11.

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