The Must-Have Iraq Book of 1943 -- and 2007?

University of Chicago Press reissues guide U.S. Army gave soldiers headed for Baghdad in World War II, full of advice that might have helped today.
July 27, 2007

“American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis like American soldiers or not.”

That's not from a think tank primer prepared in 2003, but from a pamphlet prepared 60 years earlier and just published in book form by the University of Chicago Press. Instructions for American Serviceman in Iraq During World War II could be unusually successful for the press, at least as reprints of obscure government documents go. The press has shipped out 20,000 copies in the first 10 days it has been available.

Carol Kasper, marketing director for the press, said that the idea came indirectly from the University of Oxford. Chicago distributes books published by the Bodleian Library at Oxford, where in 2004 scholars decided to publish the U.S. Army's World War II guide for soldiers stationed in Britain. In the pre-D-Day period when increasing numbers of American soldiers were stationed in Britain, the guide was intended to help the allies understand one another. One bit of advice: "The British don't know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don't know how to make a good cup of tea. It's an even swap."

The book wasn't a huge success in the United States, but Kasper said that sales in Britain were impressive. So the press approached the Bodleian about whether it was interested in publishing more volumes in the series, especially one on Iraq (World War II having been a truly global war, the Army produced country guides for just about everywhere). When the Bodleian passed on the idea, Kasper said press decided it should track down a copy of the Iraq guide and it found one in the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library.

The hardcover reprint is designed to convey the feel of the original, includes the original drawings and maps, and sells for $10.

The World War II guide is written for soldiers with limited knowledge of Iraq or Islam -- don't expect detailed explanations of the Shiite-Sunni divide. But many of the topics covered resonate with recent history.

The U.S. soldiers in Iraq during World War II were less focused on battles with troops than the sort of battle over the "hearts and minds" of the local population. Given that Hitler was also seeking support for those same hearts and minds, the book advises that learning about Iraq is key because "the best way to get along with any people is to understand them."

Much is made of the way Iraqis could turn into either friends or enemies of the United States. "That tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerilla warfare. Few fighters in any country, in fact, excell him in that kind of situation. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy -- look out!"

The guide also warns against trying to think that Americans can reshape Iraq. "You aren't going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of 'live and let live.' Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have a chance to provide to yourself and others. If you can, it's going to be a better world to live in for all of us."

"It's very ironic to read," Kasper said.

Next season, Chicago plans to bring out the guide the Army wrote for those serving in France. "It's more light hearted," Kasper said.


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