The Tardis in the library, part two

I have time machines in my library. They work like magical one-way windows for when I gaze into them I can see and listen to people from times past yet they cannot see or hear me. Some, I think, suspect that people from the future might occasionally look in on them and so they are on what they feel to be their \”best\” behaviour. It is interesting and informative to see what they consider \”best\” behaviour.\” Other people from the past seem either to be totally unaware or totally unconcerned that people from the future might pass through every once and a while.

In 1943 the Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, United States Army prepared a booklet Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq. In 2007 The University of Chicago press recently reprinted a facsimile of the original with an added foreword written by Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl. Nagl served in Iraq from September 2003 to September of the following year. He has high praise for much of it \”I wish I had read it before beginning my own yearlong tour (v)\” although he also points out:

there are also tips in the 1943 Short Guide that absolutely would not see the light of day in the politically correct world of today. None of the men serving there need to be told, \”Don\’t make a pass at any Moslem women or there will be trouble.\” But the guide continues with more advice that caused my jaw to drop; \”Anyway, it won\’t get you anywhere. Prostitutes do not walk the streets but live in special quarters of the cities.\” If service members today do need this guidance, I can absolutely guarantee that they won\’t get it from an official War Department publication! (xi)

Two other pieces of advice stood out to this reader:

Be kind and considerate to servants. The Iraqis consider all people equal. (29)

Note that the soldiers are not told to be kind and considerate to servants because it was right to do so. Nor were they told that they should be kind and considerate to servants because it would make the United States look good. Nor does the booklet say \”The Iraqis, like us, consider all people equal.\” The Iraqi attitude/belief that all people are equal is put forward as just another one of their cultural quirks about which servicemen should be forewarned.

Avoid any expression of race prejudice. The people draw very little color line. (29)

The American Army was at the time this booklet was issued a segregated institution. One can deduce that the troops for whom this booklet was published were overwhelmingly white, male and at least nominally Christian. They weren\’t admonished not to \”feel\” race prejudice, just to avoid expressing it. And they were to do so not because it was right or reflected well on the United States but because having \”very little color line\” was just another one of those strange Iraqi quirks.

These two points stand out because of the clear line against religious proselytizing and prejudice in the same booklet.

You probably belong to a church at home, and you know how you would feel towards anyone who insulted or desecrated your church. The Moslems feel just the same way, perhaps even more strongly. In fact, their feeling about their religion is pretty much the same as ours toward our religion, although more intense. If anything, we should respect the Moslems the more for the intensity of their devotion.(12)

So, in 1943 the authors of this handbook felt that the ordinary American serviceman was more able to feel fellowship and empathy with Moslems on matters of religion that they were about matters of racial and social equality.

Which tells us just as much about the America of 1943 as it does of the Iraq of the same year.

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