Podcast: God’s Way of Teaching Americans Geography

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 4 –
Fred Kaplan – God’s Way of Teaching Americans Geography

Every generation, we find ourselves fighting one of these insurgency wars, but the last one — Vietnam — was so awful that the generals threw out all the training manuals and lessons from it, saying, “We’re not doing that ever again.” The problem was, they didn’t have a choice.

Why was the U.S. Army so unprepared for the insurgency in Iraq? Why did it take years after the fall of Baghdad for the military and its civilian command to understand what sort of war we were fighting? What did we achieve in Afghanistan, and what did we hope to achieve? Fred Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, discusses all this and more in the latest episode of The Virtual Memories Show! (My contribution is a comparison of war analytics to pharmaceutical clinical trials.)


There’s a tendency for people to believe that everybody around the world is pretty much like us, and to the extent that they’re not, it’s because a dictator is stomping his boot on their heads. The thinking goes, when that boot is lifted, they’ll become like us. It’s a very one-dimensional view of conflict.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out our archives for more! (If you dig this one, you’ll probably like the episode with Ron Rosenbaum from January ’13.)

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About our Guest

Fred Kaplan writes the War Stories column at Slate.com and jazz reviews for Stereophile magazine. In addition to The Insurgents, his books include 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, and The Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford Nuclear Age Series). His articles, reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Boston Globe, Time, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, The New York Observer, The Forward, Architectural Digest, Home Theater, GQ, and a whole lot of other venues over the years. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 while at the Boston GlobeVisit his website for more about his work.

Credits: This episode’s music is Start a War by The National. The conversation was recorded at Willard Spiegelman’s home in New York City, on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the other material on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Also, I have a yucky headcold, so that’s why the intro/outro sounds so bad this time around. I’ll come up with another reason for next episode’s bad intro/outro.