‘Telling an Auto Mechanic to Use a Glossy Sales Brochure to Figure out How to Repair an Engine,’ or The War in Iraq

“I know what the cost is when you don’t do this right,” Lt. Col. Holshek, Commander of Civil Affairs unit, connected with the 4th Infantry Division (ID).

We tend to want to believe that our leaders can do no wrong, or, at least, that or country can do no wrong. Through grade school we are socialized, in that we stand with hand over heart and pledge our never wavering allegiance to our country’s flag, to the stars and the stripes. This belief that our country can do no wrong is deeply ingrained in us during our youth through the precise rhetoric of our ancestors and founding “fathers.” Fortunately, for many of our more recent leaders, our society is not one of looking at our own history and learning from our mistakes. We instead repeat history as we refuse to accept what has already bestowed us. As Karl Marx stated, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Because we decide against hindsight we are left to wander in circles, left to repeat the same steps and series of events.
Thomas E. Ricks is a senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post. His book, Fiasco: the American Military Adventure in Iraq, examines the flaws in our government and in its chain(s) of command. It begins with a short history of the Persian Gulf War, or Gulf War, (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991) and ends in 2006, during the Iraq War, also referred to as the Second Gulf War, the Occupation of Iraq, or more commonly the War in Iraq, suggesting a long-term occupation of the Middle East.

Ricks investigates the chain of command in our government in both the civilian and military arena, only to find neither of them taking credit for the missteps during the war. Rather they continually point the finger at the opposing end. Both distorted reports and covered up war crimes committed by the enlisted and commissioned officers. It’s sad to admit that history repeats itself, but as a History major you are continually reminded of the dead soldiers, generally the less wealthy of the nation, and how the government persistently uses outdated, unfinished, or even nonexistent policy to carry out war. What’s more is policy that is in place and the lessons learned from past wars are not heeded or shrugged off. “The modern U.S. Army was born in the ashes of [the Vietnam War]” (Ricks, 130), however, during the Iraq War (2003-present) the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) has seemingly forgotten everything they’ve researched and the army is forced to fight, very much, the same war that was fought forty (40) years ago – the Second Indochina War, also identified as the Vietnam Conflict or Vietnam War.

Fiasco suggests that we have not learned from our mistakes in the past and will continue to repeat them if we choose not to study and fully understand our world. Ricks warns that “in war, strategy is the searchlight that illuminates the way ahead. In its absence, the U.S. military [will] fight hard and well but blindly, and the noble sacrifices of soldiers [will] be undercut by the lack of thoughtful leadership at the top that soberly assess[es] the realities of the situation and construct[s] a response.” Without a full-proof and true strategy a nation will fail, much like we failed in Vietnam and are failing in Iraq.

In an age of massive technological advances our leaders succumb to using “PowerPoint slides [above all information technology],” asserts Retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich as he recognizes this as “the height of recklessness.” Ricks offers that the use of Microsoft PowerPoint slides is “like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer’s glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine” (76). I assume we will continue to fight for both meaningful and unnecessary reasons as we will never release the fold around our eyes that keeps us blind to past and stumbling toward the future.

A short “book review” for a History course.


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