Latest Reading: Three Cups of Tea – One Man’s Mission To Promote Peace…One School at a Time

I finally got around to reading Greg Mortenson’s book about his work in Pakistan. The book was on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for a long time. I won’t give a summary of the book but a few of my impressions. It was a good time to read the book to coincide with my trip to the Middle East. Mortenson is an “global nomad” having grown up in Tanzania and it shows in his ability to easily adapt to a foreign culture. He is being touted by the US media as the foremost authority of life in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the US military commanders are consulting with him. Is it that hard to take time to learn the language and customs of a country. He dives right into the culture of the Kashmir / Himalaya region by learning Pashtun, wearing the traditional costumes and figuring out the power hierarchy in the villages where he is trying to build schools. I think his global background gave him the mind set to do this very quickly, having grown up in a culture different to his own parents.

My Father-in-Law Buys Dates in a Market in Manama, Bahrain (December 2010)

I just don’t understand why the US foreign service and military doesn’t have an army of Greg Mortensons. It should be mandatory to use long-time in-country expats to understand how the US government form its policies and relationships with other nations. The US should be putting more effort and resources into developing people like him. I feel strongly about maintaining a strong military, but the US should put more into money into programs like Mortenson’s, like building schools in areas that need them. I feel sorry for those kids in the US Armed Forces that have never left the US, being thrown into situations where they need to interact with local civilians. We are going about it all wrong.

My visit to Bahrain the past two weeks has changed my perspective to the Middle East. I know that Bahrain is only a small part of the region, and is known for its tolerance, but this is a region that we can do much more to help, other than military intervention. They Muslims are ordinary people with normal hopes, dreams, fears, emotions, etc. Greg Mortenson has found this out, why don’t more Americans do so also?


Book Review: “The Forever War” by Dexter Filkins

Many people called this book the best one so far on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. I can see why! I couldn’t put the book down.

Filkins spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, the World Trade Center, and Iraq, covering Bush’s “War on Terror” and it shows with the breadth and depth of the vignettes presented in the book. He may have the best overall view of the war. Filkins was embedded with US troops on many missions. As a NY Times Reporter, he got to interview not only regular troops, but the commanders and higher ups in the military, CIA, and US government. He also lived outside the “Green Zone” so he got to know many ordinary Iraqis. He also gets the perspective of the insurgents and it is amazing how he got to experience both sides of combat. The guy talked to everyone involved in the war. It gives the complete picture of war. He is also a great writer and the book has a poetic sense to it. The characters and their stories really grip you.  

He was almost killed or kidnapped several times. He is deeply affected by the violence and suffering he saw, similar to many of our troops. He really brought home the great difference between what is happening in Iraq and normal, everyday life in the USA. Many of his Iraqi friends are now living in the US.

I remember when we declared war on Iraq. I opposed the war and thought it was a bad idea. I agree that it was good to get rid of Sadaam Hussein, but there are many other dictators just as bad. Why go into Iraq? The war has cost the USA lots of money, energy, and lives. Not worth it in my opinion. It is sad and tragic. I felt sorry for the troops. They are mostly young kids from small towns like mine. It is not a fair fight as the “insurgents” hide behind civilians. No nation ever wins a war of occupation. We should get out as soon as possible. The book gave the impression that there could be a war between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam. We are not going to turn Iraq into a beacon of freedom and democracy for the Middle East. The Islamic tribal culture is so different to ours that it would takes several generations to make any profound change. And that is only if they wanted us to change them.

The book is reviewed in the NY Times  and the NY Times’ bureau has a good blog. Many conservatives in the US say that the NY Times coverage of the war is biased, but Filkins points out they have spent the most money and provided the most coverage and reflective thinking about the war than any other media. The Los Angeles Public Library also has a podcast interview with Filkins.