History Department
History Department

"Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan" by Aaron B. O'Connell (History Faculty New Book Talk)

Tue, April 24, 2018 | GAR 4.100

3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

The History Faculty New Book Series presents:

Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan
(University of Chicago Press, April 2017)

Edited with an Introduction and Conclusion by Aaron B. O'Connell
Associate Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
Dr. O'Connell’s faculty profile page

The first rule of warfare is to know one’s enemy. The second is to know thyself. More than fifteen years and three quarters of a trillion dollars after the US invasion of Afghanistan, it’s clear that the United States followed neither rule well.

America’s goals in Afghanistan were lofty to begin with: dismantle al Qaeda, remove the Taliban from power, remake the country into a democracy. But not only did the mission come completely unmoored from reality, the United States wasted billions of dollars, and thousands of lives were lost. Our Latest Longest War is a chronicle of how, why, and in what ways the war in Afghanistan failed. Edited by historian and Marine lieutenant colonel Aaron B. O’Connell, the essays collected here represent nine different perspectives on the war—all from veterans of the conflict, both American and Afghan. Together, they paint a picture of a war in which problems of culture and an unbridgeable rural-urban divide derailed nearly every field of endeavor. The authors also draw troubling parallels to the Vietnam War, arguing that deep-running ideological currents in American life explain why the US government has repeatedly used armed nation-building to try to transform failing states into modern, liberal democracies. In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, this created a dramatic mismatch of means and ends that neither money, technology, nor the force of arms could overcome.

The war in Afghanistan has been the longest in US history, and in many ways, the most confounding.  Few who fought in it think it has been worthwhile.  These are difficult topics for any American or Afghan to consider, especially those who lost friends or family in it. This sobering history—written by the very people who have been fighting the war—is impossible to ignore.

Aaron O'Connell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin and a Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He joined  UT's faculty from the White House, where he served as Director for Defense Policy & Strategy on the National Security Council from 2016-2017. A U.S. Marine with 22 years in uniform, Aaron has previously served as a Special Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a Special Advisor to General Petraeus in Afghanistan, and as the U.S. Defense Attaché in South Sudan.  His first book, Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps (Harvard University Press, 2014), was a cultural history of the U.S. Marine Corps after World War II. He is now at work on a history of the U.S. occupation of China from 1905-1941.

Sponsored by: International Relations and Global Studies; Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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