[Note to TomDispatch Readers: News about the first original Dispatch Book, Ann Jones's They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars -- The Untold Story, continues to spread! The Nation magazine has just published a particularly moving excerpt from it: "The Colonel, the Soldier, and the Caregiver: How the War Changed Charlie." The book itself is a remarkable act of witness and a unique accounting of the true costs of war, up close and personal. I urge you to pick up a copy. And while we're at it, on our return from Thanksgiving, we're bringing back our good friend "Colonel Manners" to offer another TomDispatch-style satiric take on Washington and war. Tom]
The American Way of Manners
Col. Manners Answers Your Questions on the Etiquette of War, Nuclear Threats, and Surveillance
By Colonel Manners (with a helping hand from Tom Engelhardt)
[Editor's Note: Many publications have advice columnists, but none has our old friend Colonel Manners (ret.), whose experience in military and surveillance matters is evident from his impressive CV (unfortunately, a classified document). His assignment: to answer questions from Americans puzzled by the abstruse intricacies of the American way of war and by the etiquette, manners, and language of the arcane national security world of Washington. Here is a sampling of his recent correspondence.]
Dear Col. Manners,
I'm a 17-year-old high school student with an interest in American records. After college, I'm hoping to land a job with Guinness World Records. So here's my question: I notice that news reports regularly refer to the Afghan War as the "longest in American history." How is that possible? The war began in October 2001 and it's now December 2013. Counting on my fingers, I get 12 years. The Vietnam War began in 1961 and didn't end until 1975 (with those famous images of helicopters going over the side of an aircraft carrier). That's 14 years by my count. I'm proud of American records of every sort, but this doesn't seem like one. What am I doing wrong?
Proud in Toledo
You have a lot to be proud of and, as far as I can tell, you have just the right number of fingers. It's true that, historically, we've been numero uno among record-breaking countries. Still, sometimes we get a little overeager. This is one of those cases. Clearly, those claiming the much desired "longest" title for Afghanistan are cheating by counting the Vietnam War as starting in 1964 with Congress's Gulf of Tonkin resolution, or 1965 when the first official U.S. combat troops entered that country, not in 1961, when significant numbers of armed "advisors" initially arrived.
But don't lose hope! Let me offer you some future numbers to be proud of. After all, at this moment the Obama administration is negotiating to keep 8,000-15,000 of our troops in Afghanistan as trainers and to hunt al-Qaeda until 2024 ("or beyond," as some reports say). If, despite the machinations of that country's emotionally unhinged president, they succeed... well, you can do the math yourself. That's a 23-year war, so put it in the American record books -- and by a long shot.
But don't stop there. After all, the U.S. fought the Soviets in a fierce proxy war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. I don't know Guinness World Records rules, but if that decade is admissible, you've just left the 30-year war of the Vietnamese against the French and the Americans in the trash heap of modern records, and the European Thirty Years' War of the seventeenth century in the dust. I won't claim that somewhere there hasn't been a longer war, but this would still be one for the global record books. And keep in mind that all of this has taken place in the landlocked backlands of the planet, a place most Americans couldn't have located on a map before 1979.
Or let me put it this way and be a proud grandpa while I'm at it: my granddaughter Edna was born in October 2001. Before 2024, if all goes well, she could have at least three tours of duty in Afghanistan! So I say: 2024 or bust!
Yours in American Pride,
Dear Col. Manners,