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Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine

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In the spring of 2004, army reservist and public affairs officer Steven J. Alvarez waited to be called up as the U.S. military stormed Baghdad and deposed Saddam Hussein. But soon after President Bush’s famous PR stunt in which an aircraft carrier displayed the banner “Mission Accomplished,” the dynamics of the war shifted. Selling War recounts how the U.S. military lost t In the spring of 2004, army reservist and public affairs officer Steven J. Alvarez waited to be called up as the U.S. military stormed Baghdad and deposed Saddam Hussein. But soon after President Bush’s famous PR stunt in which an aircraft carrier displayed the banner “Mission Accomplished,” the dynamics of the war shifted. Selling War recounts how the U.S. military lost the information war in Iraq by engaging the wrong audiences—that is, the Western media—by ignoring Iraqi citizens and the wider Arab population, and by paying mere lip service to the directive to “Put an Iraqi face on everything.” In the absence of effective communication from the U.S. military, the information void was swiftly filled by Al Qaeda and, eventually, ISIS. As a result, efforts to create and maintain a successful, stable country were complicated and eventually frustrated. Alvarez couples his experiences as a public affairs officer in Iraq with extensive research on communication and government relations to expose why communications failed and led to the breakdown on the ground. A revealing glimpse into the inner workings of the military’s PR machine, where personnel become stewards of presidential legacies and keepers of flawed policies, Selling War provides a critical review of the outdated communication strategies executed in Iraq. Alvarez’s candid account demonstrates how a fundamental lack of understanding about how to wage an information war has led to the conditions we face now: the rise of ISIS and the return of U.S. forces to Iraq.  


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In the spring of 2004, army reservist and public affairs officer Steven J. Alvarez waited to be called up as the U.S. military stormed Baghdad and deposed Saddam Hussein. But soon after President Bush’s famous PR stunt in which an aircraft carrier displayed the banner “Mission Accomplished,” the dynamics of the war shifted. Selling War recounts how the U.S. military lost t In the spring of 2004, army reservist and public affairs officer Steven J. Alvarez waited to be called up as the U.S. military stormed Baghdad and deposed Saddam Hussein. But soon after President Bush’s famous PR stunt in which an aircraft carrier displayed the banner “Mission Accomplished,” the dynamics of the war shifted. Selling War recounts how the U.S. military lost the information war in Iraq by engaging the wrong audiences—that is, the Western media—by ignoring Iraqi citizens and the wider Arab population, and by paying mere lip service to the directive to “Put an Iraqi face on everything.” In the absence of effective communication from the U.S. military, the information void was swiftly filled by Al Qaeda and, eventually, ISIS. As a result, efforts to create and maintain a successful, stable country were complicated and eventually frustrated. Alvarez couples his experiences as a public affairs officer in Iraq with extensive research on communication and government relations to expose why communications failed and led to the breakdown on the ground. A revealing glimpse into the inner workings of the military’s PR machine, where personnel become stewards of presidential legacies and keepers of flawed policies, Selling War provides a critical review of the outdated communication strategies executed in Iraq. Alvarez’s candid account demonstrates how a fundamental lack of understanding about how to wage an information war has led to the conditions we face now: the rise of ISIS and the return of U.S. forces to Iraq.  

35 review for Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Brune

    As a military journalist who served in Iraq from 2003-2004 and again from 2005-2006, I can say this book is the kick in the pants to the military PAO profession that it needs, and that will likely be ignored because it doesn't sugar coat the truth. A valuable insider's-eye view on the world of military press liaising and the challenges facing those Soldiers tasked to tell the Army story, this book is also well-written and funny as hell. I highly recommend it! As a military journalist who served in Iraq from 2003-2004 and again from 2005-2006, I can say this book is the kick in the pants to the military PAO profession that it needs, and that will likely be ignored because it doesn't sugar coat the truth. A valuable insider's-eye view on the world of military press liaising and the challenges facing those Soldiers tasked to tell the Army story, this book is also well-written and funny as hell. I highly recommend it!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Scott Neuffer

    A must-read for anyone interested in foreign policy. Shines a harsh light on U.S. military leadership and Pentagon propaganda in post-invasion Iraq. Read my full review at Foreword Reviews: https://www.forewordreviews.com/revie... A must-read for anyone interested in foreign policy. Shines a harsh light on U.S. military leadership and Pentagon propaganda in post-invasion Iraq. Read my full review at Foreword Reviews: https://www.forewordreviews.com/revie...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steve Swanson

    The book has moments where it gets a bit academic. It is heavily researched. But even with some yawn worthy pages, it is a really good book that shares a side of military operations I knew very little about. I was surprised at how much goes on behind the scenes. I didn't know the services had PR personnel. The title caught my eye in the bookstore as did that creepy picture. This isn't a stereotypical war memoir and I can see where this guy's way of thinking met with resistance. It is a very good The book has moments where it gets a bit academic. It is heavily researched. But even with some yawn worthy pages, it is a really good book that shares a side of military operations I knew very little about. I was surprised at how much goes on behind the scenes. I didn't know the services had PR personnel. The title caught my eye in the bookstore as did that creepy picture. This isn't a stereotypical war memoir and I can see where this guy's way of thinking met with resistance. It is a very good read and one that captures quite effectively the madness of the Iraq war.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steven Miller

    Though I agree with the underlying idea of this book--that the military's public affair apparatus is not very good--this book does nothing to address the problem. Alvarez' attempt to offer solutions to the problem gets lost in his self-aggrandizement. This book is really a memoir of his year in Iraq. The first 250 pages is a collection of stories of bombings, mortar and rocket attacks, and encounters with Iraqis and U.S. leaders; stories that all of us who were there at that time have. Then one Though I agree with the underlying idea of this book--that the military's public affair apparatus is not very good--this book does nothing to address the problem. Alvarez' attempt to offer solutions to the problem gets lost in his self-aggrandizement. This book is really a memoir of his year in Iraq. The first 250 pages is a collection of stories of bombings, mortar and rocket attacks, and encounters with Iraqis and U.S. leaders; stories that all of us who were there at that time have. Then one chapter critiques--appropriately but not effectively--the world of military public affairs. The next chapter reverts back to memoir where he lists all of the top journalists that he interacted with. Finally in the epilogue the truth behind this book comes out: Alvarez feels like he wasted a year of his life in Iraq. Most of the rest of us do, too. There is nothing new or valuable in this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scott Campbell

  6. 4 out of 5

    Evan Clark

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

  8. 4 out of 5

    Duncan

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adin Dobkin

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  11. 5 out of 5

    J.P.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Esjay Alvarez

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ed Werner

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mobeen Bhatti

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Shapiro

  16. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  17. 4 out of 5

    John

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam Maisel

  20. 5 out of 5

    Barry

  21. 5 out of 5

    Drew M

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Wu

  23. 4 out of 5

    Neverdust

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  25. 5 out of 5

    Spencer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  27. 4 out of 5

    prbeckman

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brandice

  29. 5 out of 5

    rtxlib

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Bernier

  31. 5 out of 5

    Phnx

  32. 4 out of 5

    Nathan P. Goodman

  33. 5 out of 5

    Curt

  34. 4 out of 5

    R

  35. 5 out of 5

    Brian Ramsdell

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