The Fourth of July is generally a time for Americans to get together, watch fireworks, and celebrate our nation’s independence. But in the period since 1776, the United States has also repeatedly sought to help other nations achieve their own independence and liberty, sometimes through war. The recent 75th anniversary of D-Day reminded us that the United States played a key part in dismantling fascism, and over subsequent decades, helped transform nations such as Germany and Japan into free, stable democracies. The United States has certainly had some important feats over its 243-year lifespan that helped free others from oppression.
For readers interested in the history of United States engagement in the Pacific, this is a good time to get caught up on the Cornell University Press backlist!
In recent months, I have signed a tide of wonderful—deeply researched, fluidly written, smartly argued—new books on U.S. foreign policy and military engagement in East Asia and Southeast Asia in the post-World War II era. New books are coming in fall 2019 and spring 2020 from Oliver Charbonneau, Sangjoon Lee, Katherine Moran, Thomas K. Robb and David James Gill, Nancy Shoemaker, and Colleen Woods. Their work will change how we look at the U.S. role as a Pacific power in the 19th and 20th centuries and so got me to thinking about trends in our historical analysis of events like World War II, Bandung Conference, and the Vietnam War. The bundle of backlist books I have selected is a wonderful mix of histories of U.S. strategy, foreign policy, civilian engagement, and military action in the Pacific. These are the books which the new wave of works if carrying forward, and so are necessary reading for everyone who follows the influence of the U.S. in the broad Pacific region.
On Veterans Day, the nation thanks those who have served honorably in the United States armed forces in both peacetime and wartime. It should also be a time to remember that not all of the veterans of America’s foreign wars wear uniforms.
Civilians serve too.
Modern warfare, especially the counterinsurgency and nation-building missions that the armed forces have been called upon to perform in recent years, requires a range of civilian expertise. This can involve base management or intelligence analysis. It has also meant going outside the wire to be part of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which work to bolster the performance of local governments as part of ongoing nation-building missions. This work is vital to the military’s exit strategy, and hence getting the troops home.
As I show in my book To Build as well as Destroy: The American Experience of Nation-Building in South Vietnam, civilians have been deploying to war zones for a long time. In fact, the practice reached its postwar height in the Vietnam War. This is something it is easy to miss if we rely on the standard history books and movies to gain our understanding of the war.
As well as a brutal guerrilla war, Vietnam was also a war of nation-building. The issue over which the war was fought was the governance of South Vietnam. Would it be united with Communist North Vietnam, or would it develop an independent, non-Communist government? The latter was the U.S. preference, and over the course of the war over ten thousand civilians deployed to Southeast Asia to try to shape the development of South Vietnam’s government to enable it to defend itself from the Communist challenge.
They came from a variety of backgrounds and agencies – the State Department, the CIA, the Agency for International Development, even the Peace Corps. In the early years, some hitchhiked from postings elsewhere in Asia to join the nation-building mission. Many were inspired by the ideals of development with an almost missionary zeal – they wanted to save the people of South Vietnam from the corruption, mismanagement and brutality of their own government. They often served deep in the countryside, where no American had ever gone before.
As American involvement in the Vietnam War expanded in the late 1960s, this nation-building apparatus grew in size as well. In 1967, the Johnson administration created the Office of Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) to expand the nation-building mission. CORDS was headed by a civilian, and throughout its ranks thousands of military and civilian personnel worked side by side on the same mission, being exposed to the same dangers and writing each other’s efficiency reports. Its “sandwich” structure meant that civilians gave orders to military personnel and vice-versa.
It was an experiment without precedent in American history and has not been repeated on such a scale since.
Civilians who have served in war zones have faced some unique burdens, both during the Vietnam War and today. They are all volunteers who usually must be granted permission by their host agencies to go overseas. Often these agencies see such deployments as a distraction from the “real” jobs their employees are supposed to be doing at home, and so serving can be harmful to careers. As a result, the military has often struggled to attract enough volunteers. As of July 2018, 70% of the necessary positions for civilians in Afghanistan were unfilled.
So, this Veterans Day, spare a thought for these “expeditionary civilians”. They often serve in the shadows, and some pay the ultimate price. They deserve to be honored, too.
About the author of this blog post: Dr. Andrew J. Gawthorpe is Lecturer in History and International Studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands. He has written for publications including Stars and Stripes, Foreign Affairs, and more.
One thing I appreciate about meeting with Cornell University Press’ Director Dean J. Smith, is that I always leave his office with some kind of insight or anecdote. He seems to be a natural story-teller, and last week he told me how he gave a free copy of Suzanne Gordon’s new book Wounds of War, to a veteran who walked into Sage House. The conversation moved Dean and he decided he wanted to do something special for veterans. His words resonated with me.
For those who are not familiar with her work, Suzanne is an award-winning healthcare journalist and author who spent more than thirty years researching health care delivery and nursing in the American private, profit-driven marketplace. And even though she is not a veteran herself, she is genuinely concerned by the move towards outsourcing veterans’ care. Last month, Suzanne wrote a blog post for our website about the dangers of privatizing the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), emphasizing the need to protect a system that manages the healthcare of a vulnerable population that is, “at high risk for mental health and substance abuse problems, suicide, chronic pain, homelessness, and legal issues, to name a few.” Her fight is one born out of personal motivation; as a civilian, she has nothing to gain from the political debate around the VA.
All this said, and in anticipation of #VeteransDay in the US this Sunday, we have decided to celebrate all veterans, their families, and caregivers, with a special book giveaway! And we are inviting them to share a flyer on Facebook or Twitter, for the chance to enter to win a FREE copy of Suzanne Gordon’s new release Wounds of War.
Additionally, we’ll send a free copy of Suzanne’s previous book, The Battle for Veterans’ Healthcare, to the first 500 people who email us at firstname.lastname@example.org on November 11th*. Please type “Veterans’ Day Promo” in the subject of your email.
At #CornellPress, we believe that it is our duty to spread knowledge and support the men and women who have served this country, showing them our appreciation with these two promotions. We hope that everybody participates and enjoys their new books!
*By sending an email to get a free copy of The Battle for Veterans’ Healthcare, you agree to receive mail notifications with the latest updates from Cornell University Press. Promo valid in the US only.
For more information on Wounds of War, listen to the following interviews with Suzanne Gordon on Frontlines of Freedom and the Radioactive Broadcasting show:
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is excited to extend this offer to veterans and hope that they can celebrate their day in a special way!
In 2017, nearly six thousand people were killed in suicide attacks across the world. And only a few weeks ago, featured in the morning news, were the reports on a bombing that killed dozens in Pakistan, together with a wave of suicide attacks that took place in southern Syria. Bombs, violence, and suicide attacks seem to transcend the boundaries of geography and time; while the frequency of these episodes remains unchanged. But what have we learned about this ugly side of humanity? And in the aftermath, how can we better grasp these expressions of violence? Is it even possible to stand in a terrorist’s shoes?
In The Smile of the Human Bomb, Gideon Aran dissects the moral logic of the suicide terrorist. Looking into the events that led to the dramatic toll of deaths in 2017, the book is a firsthand examination of the bomb site in the last moments before the explosion, at the moment of the explosion, and during the first few minutes after the explosion. Aran uncovers the suicide bomber’s final preparations before embarking on the suicide mission: the border crossing, the journey toward the designated target, penetration into the site, and the behavior of both sides within it. The book sheds light on the truth of the human bomb.
Aran’s gritty and often disturbing account comes from joining and watching the devout Jewish volunteers who gather the scorched fragments of the dead after terrorist attacks, interrogation protocols, interviews with Palestinian armed resistance members and retired Israeli counterterrorism agents, questioning of failed suicide terrorists in jail, and conversations with the acquaintances of human bombs.
The Smile of the Human Bomb provides new insights on the Middle East conflict, political violence, radicalism, victimhood, ritual, and death and unveils a suicide terrorism scene far different from what is conventionally pictured. In the end, Aran discovers, the suicide terrorist is an unremarkable figure, and the circumstances of his or her recruitment and operation are prosaic and often accidental. The smiling human bomb is neither larger than life nor a monster, but an actor on a human scale. And suicide terrorism is a drama in which clichés and chance events play their role.
As we continue to witness suicide attacks throughout the world, this upcoming #CornellPress title challenges all conventional approaches to the issue, and is a must-read for all of those trying to understand what lies behind terrorists’ motives, and what is unravelling in their minds at the moment of executing such violent and complex acts.
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is excited about the new wonderful books being published and looking forward to promoting more upcoming fall/winter #CornellPress releases.