U.S. involvement in Iraq has gone on for far longer than you might have thought. In the heat of World War II, Hitler had his eyes on the Middle East for resources. However, the British had laid claim to the area with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and America was doing whatever they could to help their allies.
Although the circumstances for landing troops in the country were far different back then than they were in 1990 and 2003, elements of the local culture have remained the same. Surprisingly, the troops’ 1942 guide to Afghanistan still holds up fairly well today.
To prepare any American soldiers for their time in region, the U.S. Army printed several pamphlets, like the Short Guide to Iraq. The guide covered many things you’d expect to find in a pocket guide: general do’s and don’ts, translations and a pronunciation guide, and little snippets about daily life in Iraq.
Despite being more than a half-century old, the guide holds up surprisingly well. If you were to take the WWII-era pamphlet and swap out any use of “Nazism” with “Extremism,” you’d have a pretty useful modern tutorial. The goal back in the 40s was cull the spread of Nazi influence, just as today’s goal is to cull the spread of terrorism. The way to do this was, as always, by winning the hearts and minds of locals while keeping a military option on the table.
Societies change over the years, but many of the “do’s and dont’s” in Iraq have a lot to do with religion and culturally appropriate reactions to hospitality. Certain things have proven timeless: It’s rude to refuse food, so, if you don’t want it, just take a small amount. Don’t gawk at two men holding hands while they walk. Don’t stare at people and accidentally give them the “Evil Eye.”
Even the little things about Iraq, like the fact that every price can be bargained and cigarettes make the best bribes, were known back then. Of course, like any good Army guide, it ends by reminding us that “every American soldier is an unofficial ambassador of good will.”
Be sure to read the Short Guide to Iraq before you mingle.