I read this book in July of 2009, and wrote the following:
This book deals with the first year of the war – summer, winter (such as it was) and summer. I had some trouble reading it but couldn’t really figure out why. Subconsciously, I think I expect any narrative to tell a story (beginning, middle, end) which this does not. This was “real life”, closer to a journal or diary.
The military language Mansoor uses is choppy and filled with acronyms. He felt no obligation to remind the reader of the identity of a person or organization. Maps and a list of acronyms were provided, but not a chart of military organization. I didn’t always know who was the superior officer, nor did I know the size of the unit in which a soldier lives.
Mansoor gives a brief historical analysis (p 351) which leads to a definition of Western Civilization as a policy of religious tolerance and an agreement that “the state should have a monopoly on the use of organized violence.” This is from the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648.
I found another interesting comment at the end of the book (p 347). “As the US undertook an intensive campaign of math and science education following the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, so must it now pursue excellence in humanities programs such as languages, history, cultural anthropology and regional studies.”
2013 comments: I am one of those “Sputnik scientists”, encouraged from elementary school and treated, in high school, to the best teachers and some interesting innovative curricula. This overlapped with my natural inclinations and I got a very good education. Now “science” has been recast as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Hard for me to say how it’s going.
My sons (in a local public high school from 1998 to 2008) didn’t get good science training, and neither has pursued a scientific field. Standardized testing has done so much damage. Science doesn’t show up on the tests, nor do languages or history, so the teachers in those fields don’t get the support they need. Science and math are often taught by people who don’t much LIKE those subject areas.
As far as a comprehensive effort to teach languages and regional studies, I’m not seeing it. Language teaching barely holds its own and in some school districts it is diminishing. Ironically, if you choose to study Arabic in college and the airport screeners find your textbook, you can subjected to questioning as a possible terrorist. We’ve got a large backlog of educational issues that need attention!