A Soldier’s Guide

An epic BBC series on the First World War produced in the 1960’s had one episode featuring the proverb, purported to be Arab, that “Allah created hell and it wasn’t bad enough; so He created Mesopotamia and added flies.” This was the kind of knowledge being given solders headed to Iraq during WWI and that arose from an officer corps dredged largely from the classically trained aristocracy. (Lawrence of Arabia anyone?)

By the WWII, the handbooks had become more prosaic, offering such gems of wisdom like “If you see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not queer” and “Iraq Is Hot! … Probably you will feel Iraq first-and that means heat.” There is also a wonderful warning to avoid the holy cities of Kerbala, Najaf, samarra, and Kadhiman. (Who’d ‘ve known?!)

Now Sharon I don’t do UFOs Weinberger and Noah Shachtman have uncovered parts of the equally entertaining “Soldier’s Guide to the Republic of Iraq,” issued to US soldiers on the eve of war in 2003. (What are you still doing here? Go read their stuff! They are real journalists with books, sources and stuff.)

Still here? Hmm..

Among the quotes they found:

  • There is little virtue in a frank exchange. Getting down to business may always occur at a later meeting or a more informal setting such as dinner.
  • Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility… if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.
  • Arabs operate by personal relations more than by time constraints.
  • Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility.
  • Arabs do not believe in upward mobility or social status; they gain status by being born in the right family.
  • Arabs do not shake hands firmly. If an Arab does not touch you, it usually means that he does not like you.
  • It is said that the Arab likes to feel your breath in their face. As you back away, the Arab will continue to shuffle forward. This is known as the “diplomatic shuffle.”

So, while American soldiers were wondering what music to play while dancing the “diplomatic shuffle,” the administration figured the soldiers would be in and out so fast it wouldn’t matter what had been published.

Except it didn’t work out quite that way. Now a couple of the above sentences look rather suspicious in light of the “We stand down as they stand up” course the Bush administration stayed so long. You see, at least the soldiers were being told that “…if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.”

I wonder if Bush didn’t get the memo.

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