Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Tell me how this ends
What were you doing 20 years ago today? Also, 7 other things worth knowing this morning.
Time flies. It was 20 years ago today that the U.S. invaded Iraq.
To me, it seems like both yesterday and 7 lifetimes ago. My little brother was a Marine infantry captain in the invasion, and my family was glued. I watched Fox News from Fort Drum, N.Y., where I'd been called up as a JAG officer.
One of my jobs back then was to teach a class on the law of war to other called-up reservists. It could be a dry subject, so I worked hard to make it entertaining: lots of jokes, lots of clips from movies. If soldiers answered questions correctly, I made a big show of throwing them candy. People will do a lot for candy.
Every class was full—standing room only, even in a giant freezing airplane hangar in upstate New York in winter. Soldiers asked how to get on the wait list.
Quickly, I realized my popularity was due to the fact that they needed my sign-off for the class before they could get on a plane for Kuwait. They were worried the war might end before they arrived.
All of this is to point out that way back then, we thought it would be over in a few weeks, maybe months at the most. Our frame of reference was the Gulf War:
Iraq invades Kuwait (Aug 2, 1990).
Months of waiting in the desert (August to January 1991).
Actual fighting lasts 43 days (January to February 1991).
Everyone comes home in time for a giant parade in DC (June 1991).
Clearly, the Iraq War affected other people’s lives much more than mine. But, it dominated a lot of my focus for almost a decade—starting in 2002, when it was clear the U.S. was going to invade.
Basically, I started out volunteering and assuming I would be going, and then I spent a lot of time in uniform waiting—more than two years—but never actually being sent.
Then, I made a big change and became someone who tried to tell the stories of other people who were involved in the war, rather than being part of it myself—first while working for Bob Woodward on his Iraq book, then going over as a correspondent for The Washington Post, then writing my own book, and finally becoming a writer for the military newspaper Stars & Stripes for a while.
I used to say the problem with writing about the military and war is that too many people you get to know wind up dying. It was as a dark joke, but there was some truth to it. Eventually, I refocused my work away from war, and more toward business, entrepreneurship, and life.
I don’t really have answers today, let’s focus on a question. Author/journalist Rick Atkinson had embedded with the 101st Airborne Division for the invasion, which basically meant tagging along with its commander, Major General David Petraeus.
(In case the name rings a bell, but you don’t recognize 100%: Petraeus went on to become the top general in Afghanistan and CIA director. He was also embroiled in a scandal after he gave classified information to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair).
Atkinson wrote a book about his experience. One passage was quoted often in the years that followed:
Petraeus kept me at his elbow in Iraq virtually all day, every day. ...
The task seemed both monumental and perpetual. During the past month, Petraeus had posed a rhetorical question, which became a private joke between us:
"Tell me how this ends."
It’s now 2023. The troops are home. Someday there will be another war. Does anyone want to tell us how it’s ended? I’d love to hear in the comments. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be great to hear your thoughts today, too.
7 other things worth knowing today
Former President Trump claimed over the weekend that he expects to be arrested tomorrow, and issued an extraordinary call for his supporters to protest as a New York grand jury investigates hush money payments to women who alleged sexual encounters with the former president. (AP)
UBS agreed to buy its embattled rival Credit Suisse for 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.2 billion) Sunday, with the Swiss National Bank pledging a loan of up to 100 billion Swiss francs ($108 billion) to support the takeover and try to stem a contagion threatening the global banking system. (CNBC)
Retail's "labor hoarding" war now has a General—Dollar General, that is. The Tennessee-based discount store brand said Thursday it will spend $100 million this year to attract and retain workers, following similar moves from major brands like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe's, Kroger, and more. The goal is to "hoard" workers so they won't be short-staffed when the economy picks up – even as companies in other sectors are laying people off in droves. (Business Insider)
Officials in Newark, New Jersey, were initially thrilled to partner with the Hindu nation of the United States of Kailasa. The only problem? The country doesn’t exist.After hosting “delegates” from the made-up country at a formal ceremony in January, City Hall has admitted that the whole thing was a scam led by a notorious Indian fugitive named Swami Nithyananda. (NY Post)
A Rhode Island woman convicted of falsely claiming to be a combat-wounded Marine as part of scams to defraud veterans charitieshas been sentenced to 70 months in prison. Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 32, who apparently never served at all, has also been ordered to pay more than $284,000 in restitution. (Task & Purpose)
More than half of people who buy new iPhones keep the boxes. Here's the story of how Apple made unpacking a new phone more of a ritual than a chore. (Retail Brew)
Speaking of which, I went down a rabbit hole about landlines. About 31 percent of U.S. families still had one as of 2019, while 97 percent of adults have cell phones. Related: AT&T has now shut down "411" information service for landline customers. Verizon still offers it, but the once-free service is now $1.99 per call. (Lifehacker, ABC 7)
Thanks for reading. Photo: fair use. See you in the comments!
How to set boundaries with a difficult family member. It’s tricky but doable, says Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist and best-selling author. Here are her strategies for getting started. (NY Times)