Weekend Reading: 4th of July Edition

July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day, America! While you’re enjoying 4th of July festivities this weekend, be sure to check out these great foreign policy and national security reads from the past week.

Independence Day round-up: In honor of the 238th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and America’s first declaration of war, we’ve got a few 4th of July-themed stories to entertain you throughout the weekend. War on the Rocks contributor Adam Tiffen, writing for Task & Purpose, traces the 11 times in history when Congress officially declared war on another country. And the Washington Post tests readers’ knowledge of events surrounding American independence with some surprising facts about what did and didn’t happen on July 4, 1776.

The Last Man’s Club of WWI: This heartwarming story from USA Today describes how a group of surviving soldiers from World War I returned home after the war and made a vow: “They’d reunite yearly and save a trophy of their adventure — a bottle of French wine — until one man was left alive. Then he would uncork the white Burgundy and toast his departed comrades.” More than 100 years later, these veterans have all passed on, but the bottle of wine remains in Meadville, Pennsylvania, as a token reminder of the Great War that is slowly fading from history.

More on WWI: This year, there has been an increase in books published on the subject of the First World War, however, the Kings of War blog offers two pieces of advice to readers and students of WWI: “Do not make corny, irrelevant attempts to tie together the situations of 1914 and 2014,” and, “Upon reading a book, ask yourself if it can pass the acid test: can it explain why it all happened?”

That time America didn’t win the World Cup: Still reeling from the men’s national soccer team’s loss to Belgium (or perhaps still watching because you actually like soccer/football)? Don’t miss this list of seven U.S. presidents awkwardly interacting with soccer balls for a good laugh.

An update from the never-ending election process in Afghanistan: In the wake of the Afghan presidential election run-off, the Independent Electoral Commission has delayed preliminary results in order to audit 2,000 polling stations for instances of fraud and corruption. According to a new Afghanistan Analysts Network report, “The decision also constitutes an overdue admission that a more rigorous scrutiny of the vote was needed.” The audit “has changed the conversation and should, at the very least, provide observers of the process with the opportunity to better assess the scope and spread of the fraud – something that has so far been largely missing in the swirl of accusations and acrimony.”

What drives Putin’s decision-making process? David A. Graham, on behalf of the Atlantic, explores the divide between structuralism and agency within international relations. Specifically, Graham provides insight from former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who sits firmly in the agency camp and argues that the current crisis in Ukraine is a direct result of President Vladimir Putin’s “actions and personality.”

The White House finally named a candidate to head up the VA: On Monday, President Barack Obama formally announced his nomination of former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, following the resignation of Eric Shinseki in May. The Washington Post has good coverage on the response to Obama’s pick from politicians and veterans advocates who seem hopeful, yet cautious, that McDonald will be able to improve the systemic corruption and incompetence currently plaguing the VA.

Those ISIL guys are getting really cheeky: Over the weekend, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) did some rebranding and shortened its name to simply the Islamic State (IS) in a declaration of the caliphate. At the Daily Beast, J.M. Berger has a very good analysis of the reformation and what this move implies about ISIL’s future.

More on ISIL: For more on ISIL, don’t miss War on the Rocks’ infographic from this week, depicting violence perpetrated by the group, in its current and previous incarnations, in Iraq and Syria.

WOTR Weekly Roundup: Check out some of the great reads from WOTR contributors this week:

  • August Cole and Ben FitzGerald argue that now is the time for the United States to be on guard against disruptions that can upend its strategic global position.
  • Yasir Abbas and Dan Trombly have some awesome insight into the collapse of the Iraqi army’s 2nd division.
  • At Charlie Mike, Marine Corps veteran Michael M. McCloud shares his memories from his deployment to Iraq and asks himself whether it was all worth it.
  • Marc Tyrrell draws similarities between the Thirty Years War that ended with the Peace of Westphalia and the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria.


Lauren Katzenberg is an assistant editor at War on the Rocks. She is also the managing editor of the veterans news and culture site Task & Purpose.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army