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The story probably dates from the 1970s, and I recall it being written like a historian's account. In the story, the US lost a war to a Latin American country, probably Mexico.

The one passage I recall went something like this:

Presidente Gonzales said, "My generals, win me this war!" A large book does not have room to contain the requirements placed on the US military by OSHA, the labor unions, the National Organization for Women, the ...

@Praxis: It was likely in Analog or one of the other monthly SF magazines available at the time. Back then, it seemed as though a number of published stories had little in the way of obviously fantastic elements. This was probably a "social commentary" story of the "if this goes on" type.

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  • Maybe I have read over your question too quickly, but what are the science fiction / fantasy elements?
    – Praxis
    Feb 10, 2016 at 17:04
  • @Praxis Alternate history is a branch of SF.
    – user14111
    Feb 10, 2016 at 17:40
  • @Praxis So I guess you don't consider Lord of the Flies to be science fiction? 1984 just barely qualifies on account of O'Brien's torture machine?
    – user14111
    Feb 10, 2016 at 17:55
  • 2
    @user14111 Lord of the Flies is science fiction? Feb 10, 2016 at 21:32
  • 2
    @user14111 I get that, it's just that I read Lord of the Flies many years ago, and didn't remember the nuclear war aspect at all. I had assumed it was set in the past, not the future (although perhaps it was the future relative to when it was written). At any rate, I was just surprised that you used it as an example of a book typically classified as SF. Feb 11, 2016 at 2:30

1 Answer 1

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Found it. It's The Engineer by Pohl and Kornbluth. The passage is not exactly as you remembered it, but the intent is clear.

..we know what Mexico's Presidente Lopez said to his staff was: 'My generals, win me this war.' And this entire volume does not have enough space to record what the United States generals were told by the White House, the Congress as a whole, The Committee on Military Affairs, the Special Committee on Conduct of the War, ...

It goes on listing various bureaucratic organizations for half a page.

The story itself is not "written like a historian's account", but this passage is a quote from a history textbook that the protagonist is reading.

This story should be required reading for all engineering students.

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  • why should it be required reading?
    – NKCampbell
    Feb 11, 2016 at 4:43
  • 3
    @NKCampbell I'm guessing Mr. Marble recommends it to engineering students not so much for the story-within-a-story about a war with Mexico as for the main story about (SPOILER) a catastrophic engineering failure.
    – user14111
    Feb 11, 2016 at 5:51
  • perfect - good information to have since the question nor the answer reference an engineering disaster. Thanks!
    – NKCampbell
    Feb 11, 2016 at 14:19
  • Yes, and it draws an analogy between "political generals" who lose wars and "political engineers" who cause engineering disasters. A poignant message to those of us who worked in the Space Shuttle program. Feb 11, 2016 at 15:38
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    Thank you! I didn't remember it as being as old as it is, and I thought I'd probably read it in Analog, but it must have been one of the collections. As an aside, I learned last night that searching Google and searching Google Books are not the same. Google didn't tell me anything pertinent, but Google Books pointed me to a collection of the first three issues of Infinity Science Fiction magazine. Frustratingly, it wouldn't show me the story, title, or author, just a very short but recognizable excerpt.
    – wheels
    Feb 11, 2016 at 16:34

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