Elliot Ackerman is effortless, and his latest offering “The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan” proves this once again. We live in a country that loves revisionist history, and we live in an era when everyone seems to just invent whatever fictional narrative they want to live by. Math, science, truth and fact be damned. Don’t mind me, I’m just getting my news from Facebook. Ahem. When it comes to news and history, I prefer to wait for the books. Typically, when a book is released, a fair amount of time has passed since the subject matter was front page news. Typically, there is time for research. Typically, there is time for fact checking. Don’t know what fact checking is? It’s the thing that scares our leadership more than anything else and precisely what you won’t find on network news programming. Facts don’t sell.
Ackerman did five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, so you armchair quarterbacks talking like you know what went down might want to think twice about this book. Odds are, this book will enlighten you, so to speak. Our longest war proved to be a machine that was nearly impossible to shut down, and there were mistakes made from the get go. And don’t go blaming one person, one surge or one pull out. There were no innocents in this process. The Republican hawks blaming Biden for the entire war are radicalized idiots who know that is simply what their base wants to hear. Trump’s deal with the Taliban gets overlooked, forgotten or denied. Yes, this is the lunacy we live with. Not to mention our flawed ideology and near complete lack of understanding of the region, culture and history.
But there was another point in this book that was painful to hear but required reading for all Americans. This war was, in great part, our fault. Yes, the American people are to blame. You, me, us. Why? Because we couldn’t be bothered. We were bored. We wanted reality TV and video games. War was a downer, so we just went along with it. Year after year, decade after decade, body after body. A poll taken before the end of the war revealed that 42% of Americans didn’t even know we were still at war. This is disgusting, yet not entirely unexpected. My guess is that the majority of Americas couldn’t find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map.
What I loved about this book is how the author bounces from real time logistics of helping people flee the country to his parallel narrative covering the fact he was on vacation with his family while doing all this. The surreal yet normalcy that often accompanies a war on the other side of the world. Get it, read it.
A lot of neocons have been trying to frame their Iraq War cheerleading in a better light at the 20 year anniversary. They don’t need to, though. No one suffered any penalties for pushing that moronic war. They all got promotions, and they’re making the decisions with respect to Ukraine and China. The Washington Post has a great series on Afghanistan called the Afghanistan Papers. I think an alternate title should be “Progress is Being Made”.
The Afghan papers were unreal. But most Americans are entirely apathetic which is why this stuff continues. I just heard Joe Rogan and Theo Von blame Biden for the LA homeless problem. Unbridled stupidity blasted out to tens of millions of people who don’t seem to know any better. Also remember, the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, etc. And what happened here in America, nothing.
The only way to avoid wars of this type, essentially clashes of cultures, is to isolate the west from the Middle East and Africa too, then, with luck, China may realise it doesn’t really need or want to bother getting embroiled in the world of the Russian dolls. I don’t see any useful connection between the latter two land groupings: they are as different from one another as are the others mentioned. Fuel comes in many varieties, and money and science can provide alternatives to natural gas, especially when under existential circumstances.
There’s probably no chance of humanity ever getting together for its own sake, or even for the survival of all of us players, active or otherwise. The science, the options and the risks we run if we continue on this reckless path to perdition are all there to see; I think most do see, but simply play the ostrich because it’s easier than doing anything constructive. As bad, we seem to be programmed to be followers rather than leaders, or at the very least, free thinkers: many, probably the vast majority, rather be told what to do than get up and do something for themselves. That’s where people like Trump find power for themselves. Don’t for a moment think it’s a phenomenon confined to the States: read a little about Brexit, and discover that your cousins across the water are about as lemming-like as anybody in your own rust belts. Dead industries are dead. They died because somebody invented something else, and/or because it became the turn of the next poorer country to assume the production of whatever industries of our own once produced, where those products remain marketable.
Cheaper wins the race. We all end up paying ourselves more than we have real money to spend. Blame the never-never plans; if you can’t put the money down, you can’t afford it. Debt enchains.
Basically, we are currently, because of overpopulation, dealing with one another as rats in a sack. Even so, nature has had enough of us too: few in Spain seem to be concerned, unless they are farmers, with the portents of disaster that the falling reservoir levels truly indicate: currently, the public complaint is about the steep rise in the cost of filling the shopping basket relative to a year ago. I hear no panic noises about what happens when we need no longer worry about price, but about empty shelves. That, despite the experiences at the start of the Covid pandemic, when many of those shelves were indeed visibly bare. It might have been partly due to panic bulk-buying, but that’s a fixable problem. Impossibility of production is something quite seriously else. Who needs the bomb?
Oh ya, I have hard core friends who wave the flag and then buy cheap Chinese goods from Walmart because they are $.20 more affordable than the domestic brand. Humans getting together has never really happened. Maybe C19 was the closest we have come in my lifetime but even then we politicized it like the clowns we are. I find a general lack of curiosity about how the world works is one of the major issues.
This was an incredibly illuminating read, which read incredibly well. Ackerman is clearly a talent! The indifference of the US public he points out is truly concerning and is endemic to most aspects of social society.
Thanks again for a superb recommendation, Dan.
Agreed. I think in great part our policy is based on the fact the public rarely cares and isn’t paying attention.