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The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way…

The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan

by Bing West

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A really comprehensive analysis of the US involvement in Afghanistan as of 2009/2010, Mr. West has spent plenty of time with the troops on the frontline and he provides good points, based on experience, to sustain his arguments as well as a few amusing vignettes that are welcome in the middle of so many shots, explosions and uncooperative local tribesmen.

Sadly, as I thought this was going to be one of the best books on the war that I'd read, the conclusions to what Mr. West arrives, his tenets for COIN if you want, are repeated time and time again, without adding much extra detail to them. ( )
  emed0s | May 16, 2012 |
Crazy as it sounds, the title does not mean that the war in Afghanistan is wrong but that, according to the author, it is fought in the wrong way. In the author's opinion the right way to fight that war is to take all gloves off: Boer type concentration camps, free-fire zones, torture - basically everything that never worked should be applied to "win" that war. Winning in West's opinion means installing a pro-USA dictator. This book reveals an ugly and crazy mindset that projects the frustration of losing a war into a modern "Dolchsto├člegende". West's hatred for Islamists barely exceeds his contempt and hatred for Europeans and liberals. In order to kill some more Muslims, West is willing to jettison most human rights. His trauma of Vietnam is strong. Meet the sick mind of Colonel Kurtz. One strange opinion that seems to gain more and more hold is the idea that an act isn't a war crime if there are no surviving witnesses. The moral rot has not been contained yet.

To test the practicability of his ideas, I wish these analysts applied their prescriptions to the American War of Independence. Could Great Britain turn the tide of war if it had applied the measures proffered? A realistic assessment reveals that West's and other authors' recommendations would not be helpful at all. There were never enough boots on the ground, and even if they were they were more likely to trample on the natives' liberties than improve their lot. Counterinsurgency best practice recommends a 1:50 ratio of soldiers to occupied people. In Afghanistan, the ratio was/is 1:2000. The ratio of American policemen stands at 2.5:1000. Thus, for the bigger task of pacifying Afghanistan, one fifth of the police force ratio in the US is available. As long as the troop commitment remains at homoeopathic level, any expectation of success is unrealistic. Piled on this are mountains of lunatic decisions. Thus a teacher is only paid 70 USD, half of what a policeman receives, whose pay in turn is half of that of a soldier. The policemen are extremely unhappy with their meager salary and it is practically impossible to find teachers willing to work for such paltry pay. On the other hand, every army meal served costs the US taxpayer 28 USD. To balance the army's appetite, the US Congress just cut American children's food assistance. The way out of this wrong war is not to double down and sacrifice humanity but a fast exit. Staying in Afghanistan is not helping in any way. US political priorities are a mess.

If one is able to ignore the author's sick philosophy, the book contains two quite valuable accounts of the fighting in the North-East in the Korengal Valley (as told in Junger's War/Restrepo) and the failed COIN effort in the South in Helmand province (basically Vietnam all over again). The best part is the description of a firefight that illustrates the difference between forces present and active. On a patrol of 13 Marines, 60 Afghan soldiers and 20 Afghan policemen, supported by about 25 US soldiers and six snipers, the US soldiers cover the rear and are not allowed to join the fight. The Afghan soldiers and policemen also only pump the air full of lead. Most of the Marines are pinned to the ground. The only one actually fighting on the US side is Corporal Meyer, assisted by his interpreter. Achilles-like, he charges in, again and again, rescuing his buddies and firing at his enemies, switching vehicles when they become too damaged or his ammo runs out. While his testosterone warrior approach is unstoppable on the battlefield, he quickly runs afoul of the professional army off the battlefield and quits his military service. In a conventional war, Cpl Meyer would be a (short-lived) ace. In a war of occupation, Rambo antics constitute a danger.

In conclusion, the good reporting about the American military failures in North-East and South Afghanistan is marred by a truly sick frame of mind and unhelpful "lessons" that the US military hopefully will ignore. ( )
5 vote jcbrunner | Aug 9, 2011 |
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From one of America's most renowned war correspondents comes the definitive account of the Afghanistan war, a damning policy assessment, and a compelling and controversial way forward.

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