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The journalist writing this book is awesome at putting this story together. A lot of the reviews talk about the repetiveness, but that was an effect the author was using to drive home particular points. I loved it and thought it was well used and totally appropriate. The narrator for this book was perfect as well. I've had good audiobooks with terrible narrators that made the listen unbearable. Not so with this book.
The subject matter is hard to digest at times. The author spares nothing and the stories he tells of the American soldiers and the Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire is heartbreaking. The people and places are real. You can google the KIA and read their tributes in the Washington Post. It makes the war very real. We all should be paying attention whats going on in the Middle East and supporting our troops no matter how we feel about the war. This book brings that home.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
When it comes to war, America's self-image is that we're always winners. And that we're never monsters. And that each death will be justified by the achievement of some greater end goal. Such are the ideals that carry the confident men of the Ranger 2-16 Battalion, part of the 2007 troop surge, into Rustamiyah, Iraq, a violent, difficult-to-comprehend hellhole of a place that quickly begins to undercut simple truths.
To me, so much about the official decision-making behind Iraq is captured by a memory towards the end of the book. A Liberian soldier (visiting an army school in the US) expresses faith in the protective power of a sacred talisman that has carried him through many battles, then swings a knife at his own arm to prove it. The knife cuts through skin and flesh, and the man's eyes fill with astonished panic at the sight of reality's imposition on belief.
Perhaps this is war's first casualty. If so, The Good Soldiers brings that truth to readers at a visceral level, putting us in the boots of soldiers sent to make up for official misjudgment and getting us to experience things as they do. The story centers around the battalion’s leader, the ever gung-ho Lieutenant Colonel Kauzlarich, but includes about a dozen of his men in its focus. We hear the initial earnest belief of young officers that their strength and generosity will carry the day, destroying a vicious enemy and winning over the rest of the population of Iraq. We experience the shock and horror of IED attacks, the weird out-of-body unreality of watching friends and enemies die in firefights. The way those moments refuse to stop ricocheting through memory. The frustration and anger of dealing with a population that seems indifferent to America's helping hand -- and the vast disconnect between Iraqis' personal concerns and US policy assumptions. There's staring out the window and wondering if you'll have any warning of the one that kills you -- and what your last thoughts before that moment will be. The fatigue, disillusionment, resignation, burnout, and despair that come with reliving that moment over and over, with few visible signs of improvement. The alienating, dreary normalcy of returning to the States after the intensity of war (little about that experience seems to have changed since Hemingway's short story about a returned WW1 vet). The fearful, lonely life of Iraqi contractors, distrusted by American soldiers and in constant danger from their own people.
Finkel's writing is very good and gives the book more impact than most in the category. Though embedded as a journalist with the 2-16, he leaves himself entirely out of the text, and builds a narrative from interview snippets, reports, lists of details, and moments that carry layered emotions. At its best, the writing takes on a simple stream-of-consciousness feel not unlike Tim O'Brien's famous The Things They Carried. Officially apolitical, he offers no big-picture analysis, but juxtaposes different moments, images, and words in a way that challenge easy idealism. An optimistic platitude from President George W. Bush is followed with the image of an infantryman killing a dog lapping up a pool of human blood. Colonel Kauzlarich's avuncular sentiments while bestowing a medal on a dismembered 19 year old lying in a hospital bed ring hollow next to the young man's blank stare, and the obvious fact he will never again live anything approaching a normal life. There is the visual of a soldier's charred remains being removed from a bomb-wrecked Humvee, where he may or may not have died before the flames engulfed him. There's a tortured human corpse haunting the sewage tank of a building chosen as an operations base like a plot element from the novel Catch-22, because no one wants to be the one to remove it.
These are gut-wrenching images that hurt and anger to think about, and there are others like them. It's all the stuff implicit in countless Reuters articles about IEDs and counterinsurgency operations. All the stuff that Americans, for or against the occupation of Iraq, have formed various abstract opinions about, but are seldom made to contemplate in terms of their horrific costs to real human beings, who can't be blamed for signing up to be what all countries expect from their soldiers. For this reason, I consider The Good Soldiers and other books like it necessary reading for all Americans, regardless of your politics.
For me, the takeaway lesson came in the last chapter, as waves of insurgents swarm out of Sadr City, attacking government sites and threatening the 2-16. To Colonel Kauzlarich, it's validation, proof that the insurgency is growing desperate. To some of his men, it's one more demonstration of the irredeemable f-ed-up-ness of Iraq. But no one really knows. The battle, like the book, ends without obvious conclusion, the 2-16 shipped home again, and no one seems any better tuned-in to what's going on in the minds of Iraqis or why. And therein lies the tragedy of goodness alone: it's not understanding. Was the war worth it? We simply don’t know, and it’s out of our hands now. Meanwhile, our own crumbling democracy awaits our salvation.
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