100 Best-ish Nonfiction Titles: History
A bit early for Christmas.

The road to hell as paved with good intentions.

MeantI really struggled with what to title today's post. "What a fucking waste"? "War is just so completely stupid"? "Finally a war book that points out the military shit is largely beside the point"? Read Peter Van Buren's spectacularly depressing memoir We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and you'll see why it would have made me think all of those things.

Van Buren was a State Department worker who was sent to Iraq to head up an ePRT--an "embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team." He lived there for a year, and details, in short chapters that can be read whenever you have a spare few minutes, a multitude of the stupid things he saw while there. He hits all the high points of our illustrious American liberation in Iraq: how we knocked out sewage and water treatment and electricity plants without ever building them up again; how we dropped our little Green Zone headquarters right on top of Saddam's old headquarters, nicely illustrating the whole ordeal was just a regime change, and not for the better ("Conveniently for Iraqis, the overlords might have changed but the address had not. The place you went to visit political prisoners who opposed Saddam was still the place you went to look for relatives who opposed the Americans"--p. 155); how we spent millions and billions of dollars on less than nothing, with State Dept. and military types alone handing it out willy-nilly, with no research or follow-up, simply to meet their own made-up objectives. Christ. Consider:

"Kids were always hanging around everywhere; few attended school in rural areas, and those who did went only half days because boys and girls were not allowed to go to class together as they had been under the mostly secular Saddam regime. The new Islamic Iraq we midwifed in 2003 couldn't afford to double the number of schools, so it was girls in the mornings and boys in the afternoons." (p. 83.)

That bit annoyed me but it was actually pretty innocuous; there are much more damning chapters about agriculture specialists who didn't know anything about agriculture, military types who were looking for any kind of activity that included women so they could just throw money at it and hit their "making the lives of women better" objectives, and constant, constant waste. It's an eye-opening read, if you can stand it.