Editor's Note: The following is a piece of satire.
Many publications have advice columnists, but none has our old friend Colonel Manners (ret.), whose experience in military and surveillance matters is evident from his impressive CV (unfortunately, a classified document. His assignment: toanswer questions from Americans puzzled by the abstruse intricacies of the American way of war and by the etiquette, manners, and language of the arcane national security world of Washington. Here is a sampling of his recent correspondence:
Dear Col. Manners,
I’m a 17-year-old high school student with an interest in American records. After college, I’m hoping to land a job with Guinness World Records. So here’s my question: I notice that news reports regularly refer to the Afghan War as the “longest in American history.” How is that possible? The war began in October 2001 and it’s now December 2013. Counting on my fingers, I get 12 years. The Vietnam War began in 1961 and didn’t end until 1975 (with thosefamous images of helicopters going over the side of an aircraft carrier). That’s 14 years by my count. I’m proud of American records of every sort, but this doesn’t seem like one. What am I doing wrong?
Proud in Toledo
You have a lot to be proud of and, as far as I can tell, you have just the right number of fingers. It’s true that, historically, we’ve been numero uno among record-breaking countries. Still, sometimes we get a little overeager. This is one of those cases. Clearly, those claiming the much desired “longest” title for Afghanistan are cheating by counting the Vietnam War as starting in 1964 with Congress’s Gulf of Tonkin resolution, or 1965 when the first official U.S. combat troops entered that country, not in 1961, when significant numbers of armed “advisors” initially arrived.
But don’t lose hope! Let me offer you some future numbers to be proud of. After all, at this moment the Obama administration is negotiating to keep 8,000–15,000 of our troops in Afghanistan as trainers and to hunt al-Qaeda until 2024 (“or beyond,” as some reports say). If, despite the machinations of that country’s emotionally unhinged president, they succeed… well, you can do the math yourself. That’s a 23-year war, so put it in the American record books—and by a long shot.