Welcome to “WAR: The Afterparty,” a world tour of 60 years of U.S. invasions, incursions and overthrows asking the question: how’d that work out for us?
On August 4th, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson went on live television to announce that, earlier that day, the USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats. Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which escalated a conflict that left fifty-eight thousand Americans and more than two million Vietnamese dead. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has since admitted that the attack never happened.
On March 20th, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq because its weapons of mass destruction programs were deemed an imminent and grave threat. President Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice warned that we must not allow a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud. The weapons were never found. The price in blood and treasure for the occupation: 4,500 American dead, 35,000 wounded, 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead, two million refugees, civil war and more than a trillion dollars.
We are told in the press and by political leaders to avoid the appearance of weakness, to project American power in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Iran.
Before we do, I thought it’s time for a field audit that asks some simple questions:
Do we achieve the objectives used to justify war? What were the actual outcomes, the return on our investment in blood and treasure? What were the body counts, and the economic costs, on both sides? Who got paid? Were the benefits worth the costs, with 20/20 hindsight?
“War, the Afterparty” is a round the world travelogue through countries that have received American military forces in the pursuit of freedom, democracy, justice, and the free flow of commerce. For the trip I traveled to Southeast Asia, the Greater Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central America, recording oral histories from the taxi drivers, presidents, mullahs, artists and combatants who witnessed history first hand.
What can we learn about our last half-century of overseas engagements? What are the patterns? How do we choose to act on the world stage, in an era of financial constraints? Unpaid, unelected world policeman? Providential city on a hill? Isolationist? Muscular wielder of a big stick? The news out of Syria, Ukraine, and other global hotspots reminds us that smart, informed attitudes toward how and why we go to war are important markers for the future of American democracy. “WAR: the Afterparty” is a global walkabout to seek out essential images and voices to inform a way forward for our next fifty years. Consider yourself invited.
Amazon reviews can be seen here.
From Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times bureau chief and one of America’s leading foreign policy journalists and authors, “Joining the army, according to an old proverb, gives you the chance to ‘travel the world, meet interesting people and kill them.’ In this book, Brian Gruber travels the world, meets extremely interesting people, and instead of killing them, tries to understand them. His book cuts through layers of propaganda and helps us see the world’s problems–and ourselves–through the eyes of others.”
From Steven L. Herman, chief diplomatic correspondent, Voice of America, “This is unlike any geopolitical tome you’ll ever read. Instead of a dry, scholarly recounting of history, Brian Gruber takes us along on a movable feast across continents . . . equipped with little more than curiosity and frequently dependent on the kindness of strangers, he nonetheless manages to yield remarkable insight from his hosts and new acquaintances — a mark of a skilled inquisitor. What results is a casual, non-linear tour de force.”
From Paolo Salom, foreign affairs correspondent and editor of Italy’s largest daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera: “So, I must say, Gruber did a great job. In his book, he gives voice to people worldwide one never would imagine ever talking to. In this way, the insight is genuine and fresh, even if you’re talking of events decades past . . . Gruber had a great idea and carried it amazingly well to the end”
From James Brooke, editor in chief of the Ukraine Business Journal, a veteran foreign correspondent who has reported from 85 countries, largely for The New York Times. “Brian Gruber has gone against the group think . . . a worthy look at these countries and the American interventions, long after the passions of the day have faded.”