Sherman Fleek: The military historian who's writing the history of the Iraq war





Before the war, the U.S. State Department estimates, Baghdad residents enjoyed more than 16 hours of electricity each day. Last month, they averaged eight.
Iraq's employment rate, according to Iraqi and U.S. government data, is as low as it has been at any time since the American-led invasion. And oil production, over the past three months, was lower than in any quarter since the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Sherman Fleek isn't quite ignoring such data, but as he constructs the Army's official history of reconstruction efforts in Iraq, he doesn't appear particularly moved, either.
"This," he said, "is going to be a story of success."
Critics may assume the retired Utah National Guard officer's unbridled optimism is just what the Army ordered, offering a flag-waving version of events that scrubs clean the blood on Baghdad's streets.
The catalog of publications in the Army's Center of Military History, where Fleek's version of events in Iraq will be published, suggests otherwise. From Wake Island to Bataan to Tet, "what went wrong" critiques of America's armed conflicts line the center's library shelves.
In warfare, after all, repeating past mistakes is a sure way to fill body bags.
And the man who sent Fleek on a recent fact-finding trip to Iraq said he had no interest in a favorable but inaccurate report.
"I didn't bias this story," says Jim Crum, Fleek's boss at the federal Project and Contracting Office. "I told him, 'Capture what you see, the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak, so we can learn from our experiences there.' "
So what, then, accounts for Fleek's apparent disinterest in painting history with the colors of insurrection, violence and futility?
History itself, perhaps.
"I am not trying to equate death and destruction as minor and insignificant, but in the movement of history, on that continuum, what we have been experiencing in these three years in Iraq is really minor compared with other conflicts," Fleek says. "I look at everything in a historical context."
Long interested in the stories of another war - one fought in the United States nearly 150 years ago - Fleek had immersed himself in Civil War history after his retirement from the National Guard in 2002.
When the military called on his services again in March 2005, they found him at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, a federally funded Civil War preservation organization where the Layton native had taken work as a historian.
For a man who had written and lectured extensively on the Civil War, "reconstruction" was not a term learned as Baghdad fell. For Fleek, it was a term loaded with historical - and personal - precedent.


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