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BOOK REVIEW BILL MACPHERSON


The Good Soldiers By David Finkel (Atlantic Books)


My best buddy lent me this over the


summer, recommending it highly for its unflinching portrait of the war in Iraq from a battalion’s point of view. We’ve got similar tastes and his offerings rarely miss the mark – bang on again. I’ll say it early on, though: if you don’t want to know the realities, or tend to romanticize war stories, don’t bother cracking it. The descriptions here are real, raw, vivid and graphic, capturing the ultimate idiocy of war and the disconnect between those on the front lines and the politicians and public back home – who really can’t imagine what these “good soldiers” are enduring. Read this searing account and they might; it’s powerful, and moving as hell. And that is what Iraq from the ground view is – hell on earth. Finkel – a Pulitzer Prize winning


journalist with the Washington Post – spent over half of the entire 15-month deployment with the 2/16 -- that is the Second Battalion Sixteenth Regiment of the First Infantry Division, nickname: the Rangers. To the 800 men and their commander they were the 2/16th


men who fight it. But they do it – over a dozen lose their lives while many others are maimed forever. The Good Soldiers is a powerful, nuanced view of the Iraq


war from the ground view up, much as Michael Herr’s classic Dispatches was the same take on the Vietnam War. It makes few judgements, only documents a segment of a war for what it is: killing, death, destruction, heroism, stupidity, bravery, and much more. All the soldiers here are heroes for enduring, and Finkel has great admiration for them – he lists every member of the battalion in the appendix. Reading this gave me a renewed appreciation for our troops in Afghanistan – and what they are doing for us.


IIII out of five


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, and they


were in the thick of it. Deployed to some of the worst areas of Baghdad in April 2007, Finkel recounts the months spent there brilliantly: the fear, the boredom, the violence, the casualties, the small kindnesses, and the absurdity of it all. As part of the U.S. Army ‘surge’,


the troops are expected to go out from their (minimally) safe compounds on patrol into a streetscape teeming with threats, danger and resentment. Every pile of garbage could hide a bomb; every civilian potentially an insurgent wanting to kill them. Each time they clamber into their convoy of Humvees is literally life and death, and they do it daily. The loss of life begins to climb –quickly and horribly - and the morale, the gung-ho excitement felt as the brigade shipped out slips away, insidiously replaced by hatred, despair and psychological trauma. All of this is captured with the eloquence and experience of someone who has been there and lived it – observed, tasted the fear, seen the depravity, and felt the horror of a war that doesn’t make much sense to the young


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