This piece originally appeared on TimDispatch.
Quick—name the five most important, influential, and best known books on the Afghan War. Okay, name three. Okay, I’ll settle for two. How about one?
While the American war in Vietnam raged, publishers churned out books whose titles still resonate. In 1967 alone, classics like Mary McCarthy’s Vietnam, Howard Zinn’s Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, not to mention Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam: A Novel all hit the shelves.
In fact, between 1962 and 1970, as American involvement in the conflict accelerated and peaked, some 9,430 books were written about the Vietnam War. From 2002 to 2010, less than half as many—4,221 texts of all types—have been written about the Afghan War.
Of course, it didn’t help that, from 2003–08, the Iraq War sucked up all the attention and left Afghanistan largely "forgotten," analytically and otherwise, nor did it help that the Afghan War never had a significant antiwar movement. The vibrant, large-scale movement of the Vietnam years, filled with people eager to learn more about just what they were protesting, proved an engine that drove publishers. Significant numbers of books produced by and for members of that movement investigated aspects of the civilian suffering the American war brought to Indochina. Not surprisingly, the Afghan War has produced many fewer works on the conflict’s human fallout, and books like Zinn’s, calling for withdrawal, have been few and far between.
Four decades ago, a stream of books was being produced for popular audiences that exposed the nature of war-making and focused readers’ attention on the misery caused by US military actions abroad. Today, a startling percentage of the authors who bother to focus on the current conflict are producing works dedicated to waging the seemingly endless American war in Afghanistan better.
Pentagon Reading Lists
Just recently, the Pentagon put a book focused on the Afghan War, Operation Dark Heart by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, on the bestseller list. No mean feat in itself. The initial version of Shaffer’s book, vetted and cleared for release by his Army Reserve chain of command, was already in print and about to head for local bookstores when the Pentagon got cold feet about letting the man who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency’s operations out of Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield in 2003–04 have his say. At a cost of almost fifty thousand taxpayer dollars, the Defense Department promptly reached an agreement with Shaffer and his publisher to buy up and then destroy most of that print run—about 9,500 copies. The resulting publicity from the military’s official book-burning vaulted a newly redacted version to number one on Amazon.com’s bestseller list and, according to Army Times, "a week after going on sale, it was on its third reprint with 50,000 copies sold or on sale."