On its front page, on its sleeve, and in pretty much all of its marketing material, Jack Fairweather’s The Good War promises to tell us ‘why we couldn’t win the war or the peace in Afghanistan.’ That’s a pretty bold statement; one that probably needs investigating. But before we get started on that, let’s consider a few things that the book does and doesn’t tell us.
What it does tell us:
- That Jack Fairweather is a researcher who deserves a lot of praise for his thoroughness and bravery
- That the Afghanistan war, if we didn’t already know it, was a big sprawling mess that may have not been fully thought out
- That militaries working together for a shared purpose don’t actually work together at all
- That governments suck at spending the aid money we donate
- That Jack Fairweather has some political allegiances that he won’t put aside, even when it seems like he should
- That a hell of a lot of people died unnecessarily in this conflict
- That almost everyone is out for themselves.
What it doesn’t tell us:
- Why we couldn’t win the war or the peace in Afghanistan.
That final bullet point is a bit of a disappointment. But unfortunately, like the military operation it documents, The Good War ends up being a bit of a broken promise.
That isn’t to say this work of non-fiction is a complete failure, though. In fact, if we go back to the very first bullet point we’ll see a reason that this book deserves a pat on its back (you know what I mean). Fairweather gives an unbelievably thorough account of the war George Bush started and nobody seems really capable of ending. From start to finish we are dealt a blow-by-blow re-enactment with hardly a stone left unturned. There’s background information on all the big players, explanations of how their roles in the war turned out, and considerations of how they functioned with those around them. If you just want the facts, and you want them written well, then this might be the book for you.
But let’s go back to that initial promise, shall we? Let’s ask ourselves if Fairweather ever really tells us why we couldn’t win the war or the peace in Afghanistan. It would be hard to argue that he does. He gives a few examples of times when opportunities were missed, or when political agendas prevented potential positive outcomes, but he stops short of ever deeply analysing why, on the whole, this war went so wrong. He gives hundreds of mini reasons why it might have done, but never dares settle on one, never makes a suggestion powerful enough to complete the promise he made.
Any Cop?: It’s a little too blow-by-blow to ever be a riveting read. It’s a little too much straightforward reportage to ever really get inside the materials and become analysis. It’s a little too convoluted and politically careful to ever fully point the fingers when they might need to be pointed. But it is informative, thorough, and a timely reminder of the need to take a little more time to think before plummeting into a new war effort. I say timely, but maybe it’s a little too late.