Certainly there can be no better person to write a book about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan than Elliot Ackerman. This author has been decorated with many of our country’s highest honors after serving five tours of duty in places most of us have read about but never really knew. Jan and I discovered in this book a world that held no answers but just a desire to know if the wars fought really in the end have meaning for those lost, and for those who returned all of whom were scarred in some way.
The author, a highly decorated Marine turned reporter, has a long list of accomplishments. A quick google search outlined his many awards and honors, both military and literary. Very impressive.
It is from his viewpoint as both soldier and journalist that he tries to make sense of a war that “left a wake of destruction, forcing (us) to craft new lives from the ruins”. A war where the paradox is that the greatest achievements are tied to the greatest failures, where victory is tied to defeat. A war where winning battles is not as much of a problem as rebuilding after the battles, both physically and politically. The latter is, of course, a complicated matter in such a politically unstable area. It’s complicated. The unintended consequences of war. The author offers no answers, but the questions exist between the lines of his stories.
As the title suggests, the book is a series of essays about the places he’s been and the names of fellow soldiers and resistance fighters. The ‘places’ sections were sometimes difficult for me to follow since I’m unfamiliar with the area. The ‘names’ sections, the human stories, were what I was especially drawn to.
The book ends with his Silver Star citation for his actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. Woven throughout the narrative of his gallantry in action are the flashback memories he experiences when he returns as a reporter. It is an extremely powerful piece of writing.
Ackerman’s love of the military and his fellow soldiers is evident in these pages. The human and political costs are brilliantly outlined. I appreciate that the author doesn’t tell us what to think but instead makes us feel and gives us much to ponder.
This was a buddy read with Marialyce!
· Many thanks to Shina at Penguin Press for my copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Honestly, it is hard for me to come to grips with this story for it contains no answers only questions as to our involvement in the conflicts we have found ourselves in for many years. Countless lives have been lost, including those of friends of the author and yet we have no resolution, no ending, no ability to see the fruits of our lost soldiers and the work of those who have come back home ladled with illness, stress, and PTSD. How can we reconcile the loss? Is it through understanding of our enemies humanity? Even if we get to know them, as Mr Ackerman was able to do, can the rest of the world understand that humanity can only succeed when the strife between nations ceases. We can declare a win and yet the minute we leave, the radical Islamic groups move right back in. Afghanistan, and to the same extent Iraq, have a tribal culture that has been in place for centuries. How can the US, or in fact any nation, hope to break that? The author points to the futility of the struggle. War does not solve anything really but it does create sorrow, pain, and the unending losses that plagued a nation. It has certainly plagued our nation. They say that there are always two sides to every story, and in this book we get to see the other side, the side that is hidden as the horrific scenes of warfare play across our TV screens and are broadcast in our news outlets.
I live in a military area. I know people who have fought in both Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, and I have seen the lives they now live. Many of them have medical problems, suffer from combat stress, and yet when or if their country asked them to, they probably would go once again into the war zone. I had to wonder at the conclusion of the eye opening book, whether the author would ever do what he did once again. I tend to think the answer would be no. We can’t and shouldn’t be the world’s police.
Thanks go out to Elliot Ackerman, Penguin Press, and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this thought provoking book. Also Mr Ackerman, thank you for your service to our nation.