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Advice to WWII Soldiers in Iraq Relevant Today

During World War II, the U.S. Army published a book of cultural dos and don'ts for soldiers serving in Iraq. It's a simple instruction manual on Iraqi customs and culture that still has relevance 60 years later.

The book includes practical tips: Keep away from mosques, never eat with your left hand, always respect Muslim women, and try speaking Arabic.

"One really wishes that we'd had this book in our breast pockets when we arrived in Iraq in September of 2003," Army Lt. Col. John Nagl tells Michele Norris.

Nagl wrote the foreword to the modern version of Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II, and he requires that the soldiers he trains read portions of the 1943 book.

For instance, the handbook notes that guerrilla fighters are particularly willing to sacrifice their lives during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"We found that out, but unfortunately, we found it out by the number who were willing to commit suicide attacks [during Ramadan]," Nagl says.

Nagl says that soldiers do learn about Iraqi culture and customs during predeployment training and that they often discuss such issues on the ground.

But he says what he missed most from not having the manual with him was "the sense of who the Iraqi people are."

"I came to know them as very generous, very concerned for their families, very proud, and fiercely loyal to their families and to their tribes," Nagl says.

Nagl says he is trying to teach the soldiers he trains that the relationships they build "over cups of tea" with Iraqi partners are perhaps the most important component to eventual U.S. victory in the war.

"One of the quotes I found most appealing in the book was that 'Americans success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis like American soldiers or not,'" he says.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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