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Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent…

Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's…

by Jim Frederick

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This is an outstanding work of journalism based on extensive interviews. Frederick tells the tale of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, deployed during one of the worst periods of the Iraq occupation in one of its deadliest areas. It is a clinical examination of leadership in war time and the dangers that can arise when leaders fail their men (apparently its now being used in leadership courses at West Point). It is also an investigation into a terrible crime, the rape of a 14 year old Iraqi girl followed by her murder, and the murders of the rest of her family by soldiers of 1st Platoon. While the soldiers directly responsible were eventually punished, there is little doubt that the responsibility for the incident goes much further than simply the men on the ground. Lastly in examining what this platoon went through during its tour, and what it did, it is also raises wider questions about the war in general, its purpose and its planning. Surely one of the best books on Iraq out there. ( )
1 vote iftyzaidi | Jan 1, 2012 |
Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent Into Madness in Iraq by Jim Frederick (2010)

If you are mad about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this book will make you madder.
If you are mad about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the disruption, dislocation and turmoil in the lives of millions of others, this book will make you madder.
If you are mad about war crimes committed by Americans (yes, I know the other side commits them too), this book will make you madder.

But sometimes we need to get mad.

You may remember a news story from the spring of 2006 about a 14 year old girl who was raped and brutally murdered by a group of soldiers, who then set her body on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime. They also brutally murdered her parents and 4 year old sister. This was not a crime of chance, but was fully premeditated.

The soldiers were members of the 1st Platoon of Bravo Co. which had arrived in Iraq in October, 2005. This book explores the platoon's psychological isolation and breakdown, day by day, week by week, month by month from its arrival in Iraq until those horrific events. The book does not excuse the war crimes, but it does try to explain them. It is written in factual, almost too unemotional terms. In his introduction, the author states that the book's purpose is to tell "the story of how fragile the values that the U.S. military and all Americans consider bedrock, really are, how easily morals can be defiled, integrity abandoned, character undone."

The 1st Platoon was based in the most dangerous and remote part of Iraq's Death Triangle. It was constantly undermanned, undersupplied and lived under the most primitive conditions. The soldier who first reported the rape and murders described the stress the platoon members suffered:

"Let me put it to you this way. Take something you do everyday, like go to the mailbox. Everyday you go to the mailbox. Now say that every time you go to the mailbox there was, say a 25% chance that the mailbox was going to blow up in your face. The explosion might not be big enough to kill you. But it could be. You just don't know. Either way, you do know that there was a one-in-four chance that it was going to blow right the f--- up in your face. But you have to go to the mailbox. There is no way you cannot go to the mailbox. So, I ask you: How many times do you think you could go to the mailbox before you started going crazy?"

To further explain the Platoon's breadkdown, the author refers to Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay which noted that the long term debilitating effects of combat are exacerbated exponentially when a soldier's sense of "what's right" is violated by his leaders. "Shortages of all sorts--food, water, ammunition, clothing, shelter from the elements, medical care--are intrinsic to prolonged combat....However, when the deprivation is perceived as the outcome of indifference or disrespect by superiors, it arouses 'menis' (the Greek word for indignant rage) as an unbearable offense. Shay writes that this rage is instrumental in the soldiers' loss of humanity that is essential to the commission of war crimes."

The point that comes through loud and clear is that the responsibility for this war crime reaches far above the 4 soldiers who actively commited the deed, and who have been punished. ( )
6 vote arubabookwoman | Jun 20, 2010 |
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This is an unflinching account of a small group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's fabled 502nd Infantry Regiment--a unit known as "the Black Heart Brigade." Deployed in late 2005 to Iraq's so-called Triangle of Death, the Black Hearts found themselves in the country's most dangerous location at its most dangerous time. Hit by near-daily attacks, suffering a particularly heavy death toll, and enduring a chronic breakdown in leadership, members of one platoon descended, over their year-long tour of duty, into a tailspin of poor discipline, substance abuse, and brutality. Four 1st Platoon soldiers would perpetrate one of the most heinous war crimes of the Iraq War--the rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl and the cold-blooded execution of her family. Drawing on in-depth interviews with Black Heart soldiers, this is a timeless story about the fragility of character in the savage crucible of warfare.--From publisher description.… (more)

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