There are two reasons I purchased this book. The first is that enough time has passed in the Iraq War that a well-researched author can start to provide some historical perspective on the various events of the war (including how unspeakable war crimes like this one can...
There are two reasons I purchased this book. The first is that enough time has passed in the Iraq War that a well-researched author can start to provide some historical perspective on the various events of the war (including how unspeakable war crimes like this one can happen). The second is that I have known the author personally, though I''ve not spoken with him in well over a decade (we attended one of the same schools). People change as they go through life of course... The whole point of my stating this is to drive home the point that I have no agenda here and have never spoken to Jim about any professional project, including this one.
I simply discovered a book on Amazon that covers a subject I wanted to know more about, which happens to be written by an old classmate whom I always respected. Jim Frederick the editor was always honest, extremely diligent in his research and preparations for a project, and he was tireless. It seems, based on what I found in this book, Jim has lost none of those traits as an author. He has much to be proud of...
...I have to confess: I rarely read books of this length and when I do, it often takes me a good month to finish. Despite best intentions, my attention wanders or I get lazy and turn on the TV, etc. I read this book in 4 days. The story that Jim conveys is equal parts dismaying, tragic, and anger-inducing. There were even a few moments of muffled laughter as I tried to keep quiet while my wife slept (Army types are nothing if not supremely gifted with the expletives). But it was the kind of laughter you feel when you gather with friends and family after an unexpected death and start exchanging stories... you don''t want to laugh because (in this case), what''s happening through the 9 or so months of the deployment is anything but good, but somehow the mind copes with laughter. I would laugh and immediately feel regret because of what these men were dealing with on a daily basis (and surely many others like them in both Iraq and Afghanistan). Today, when I read "Allied soldiers killed in _____," it evokes a different reaction than it did 5 days ago. I was always sad to hear the news (and appreciative of their sacrifices), but now I am appreciative in a different way.
What I love about this book:
1) You get to know the men of Bravo... to understand from the moment they deployed until after it was over, what happened to them as individuals, and as a team that slowly became dysfunctional. You start to see the men for who they are, including several of the commanding officers. Mind you these are NOT judgements the author makes. Like any good journalistic writer, he laid out the facts as he understood them, so the reader can judge for themselves. To be honest, I''m not sure how he remained detached in his writing; I doubt I could have.
2) The gritty details: the heated dialogs; the total frustration of the men; the things they did every day; even the geography, poverty and unpredictability of the place they served. This is the right way to "keep it real" without going overboard or letting it become a gratuitous exercise in "shock value". In an ideal world, Jim should assemble a team to research and write an hour''s worth of news for us every week; we''d all be a hell of a lot more educated and better off for it. So refreshing to skip the fluff, the vapid soundbites, and the spin that the mainstream (especially television) media crams down our throats. I learned more about the Iraq war in the last 4 days reading this book than the last four YEARS of watching the news. That says something both about the author and our television media. If you want to learn anything substantial, turn off the television and READ.
3) Gaining a better understanding of modern warfare... the confusion, the valor, the locals, the incompetence, all of it. You learn real quick the military is not the simple machine we are taught to believe, with four cogs or moving parts (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) and everyone following orders all of the time. The human dynamics are laid bare and suddenly you understand: these aren''t automatons... they are (mostly) well-meaning, dedicated, flawed, sometimes fearless, or even selfish and scared human beings. War is not only hell; it is human chaos and this book shows you why.
What could have been better:
1) The book was a bit difficult to follow in a few spots, partly because I don''t have a great understanding of military hierarchies, and partly because there is quite a bit of back and forth as events unfold. It can be confusing to know who was where on the "org chart", who was responsible for which guys, etc. The good news is there is information in the back of the book about how the Army units are subdivided from Division down to the squad level, including typical ranks of those who lead each unit... but you don''t know it''s there until the end. Similarly there were only a couple maps. I think if the Army backgrounder were shown near the start of the story somewhere, and there were maps and pictures interspersed throughout (this was likely a publisher decision based on budgets and printing press issues), it would have been easier to follow.
2) Almost too large a cast of characters, however it is almost unavoidable because in order to truly understand the dynamic --which guys'' decisions are acting upon the other players and what results-- you have to cover many people and understand their take on things as the story evolves.
3) Some chapters skip around too much. You get into one line of thinking, following a particular squad of guys, and then suddenly you jump to something (as a lay person) that seems unrelated, but which may not be. IOW it can be difficult to connect the dots at certain points. But never so much so that you lose the big picture; that sticks with you well after you put the book down for the night... that''s why I read this in 4 days. I genuinely *needed* to understand what was happening as things lead up to this nightmare.
Overall, the minor flaws of this book are easily overlooked IMO. If you stick with it you will be rewarded with a better understanding of how it is these men and women sacrifice for their country (and for another country), as well as a better understanding of the military and how war crimes like this can take place. Definitely recommended if you have an interest in these types of subjects. This is NOT a work of fiction in any sense of the word, and is not about "entertainment", so if that''s what you''re looking for, go read whichever author has displaced Tom Clancy as the military novelist of the day (I honestly don''t know the answer to that question). :)