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The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
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The Good Soldiers (2009)

by David Finkel

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“As of today, 6,845 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and over 900,000 Americans have been injured in both wars…According to the Pentagon, more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED explosions. As stated in The International Business Times, we’ve reached a ‘grim milestone’ after two failed wars…” – H.A. Goodman, The Huffington Post

A few days ago, I was keyed up to finally start reading Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel, only to read in the forward that it’s actually a sequel to the book The Good Soldiers. I did what any ordinary reader would do: I slammed the book shut and immediately purchased the latter book. It was imperative that I start at the beginning.

Finkel, a reporter for The Washington Post, deploys with the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry regiment of eight hundred soldiers out of Fort Riley, Kansas under the leadership of U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, Ralph Kauzlarich, in early April of 2007. Their assignment: be the face of the new direction the Bush administration was taking with the “war on terror,” by counterinsurgency tactics that would help the Iraqi people become independent, and stand on their own two feet.

“The thing is, he and his battalion weren’t even supposed to be here, and that’s one way to consider everything that was about to happen…”

This book was amazing! No lie. I feel ashamed to admit that although I am a WWI and WWII walking encyclopedia, I know virtually nothing about many of the wars following that, especially the one that began my senior year in high school. Many of my classmates enlisted, and two months after graduation, a guy from our graduating class was one of the first group of casualties in Afghanistan. His picture was all over the national news; it was eerie. To think of it now, it seems so long ago. He was only eighteen, and that’s what was so heartbreaking. I don’t think he realized what he’d gotten himself into.

“What about the youngest soldier in the battalion, who was only seventeen? ‘Roger that,’ he said, whenever he was asked if he was ready, but when rumors about the deployment first began to circulate, he had taken aside his platoon sergeant, a staff sergeant named Frank Gietz, to ask how he’d be able to handle killing someone. ‘Put it in a dark place while you’re there,’ Gietz had said. So was a seventeen-year-old ready?”

The same can be said of the majority of the soldiers rounding out the 2-16 battalion–most were between the ages of nineteen and twenty, not even old enough to legally drink. Some had hurriedly married girlfriends a few days before deployment, while other tenured family men said goodbye to wives and children and headed back to second or third tours. Sent to eastern Iraq where Shia militants were running rampant, they had their work cut out for them from the get go.

As Finkel ran through each month of the fifteen month deployment, my heart would race like crazy. Each patrol run, explosion, death, injury, and house search had me biting my nails and nearly pulling my hair out. Who would be the next casualty? Who would be injured by an IED? Would the mortar attacks on the base ever stop? I really felt like I was there with these men. Dusty, tired, scared, suffering shock, and the loss of friends and “brothers in arms.” It was such an emotional read. Clearly the war we hear about on the news is a whole other war for those actually fighting it. It’s not entirely black and white, and throughout the year, each soldier’s optimism and endurance is tested. None of them would return as they’d left.

“Is war supposed to be linear? The movement from point A to point B? The odyssey from there to here? Because this wasn’t any of that anymore. The blur was the linear becoming the circular.”

There was one injured soldier’s story that just made me bawl. I was heaving, it was such an emotional passage. What’s interesting is at the war front, although missing many limbs and being burned throughout most of his body, he manages to survive long enough to be air transported back to the States for treatment. His survival seems like a success–he didn’t die. Back home at a state of the art hospital for “Wounded Warriors,” Kauzlarich has a chance to visit with the soldier and his family four months after the attack. What he witnesses is the reality of life after the war. The final words of the book were so perfect, and a natural introduction to the sequel:

“’The war’s over for you, my friend,’ Kauzlarich said now to Showman, and of all the things he had ever said, nothing had ever seemed less true.” ( )
1 vote dreamydress48 | Feb 14, 2015 |
Read from December 19, 2013 to February 10, 2014

This book is solidly written, but it's not for the faint of heart. While I was very interested in reading more, the library copy had to be returned and I'm not sure I'm up for more atrocities of war.

GraphReading Progress
12/19 marked as: currently-reading
02/10 page 191 56.0% "I need to find some happier books to read."
05/07 marked as: read ( )
  melissarochelle | Nov 2, 2014 |
Whatever I try to say about this brilliant, sensitive book chronicling the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the 2007 Iraq surge won't be enough. It is unquestionably the best book I've ever read on the Iraq War, and maybe about any war. It's an absolute masterpiece of narrative nonfiction. ( )
  wanack | Feb 20, 2014 |
I want the President and every elected federal official, as well as the Secretaries of State and Defense to read this book. Finkel simply portrays the reality of war from the place of the soldiers who fight it and their families. Devastating, and the best argument against war I have read in a long time. ( )
1 vote nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Journalist David Finkel spent eight of the fifteen months during which the 2-16 Infantry Batallion were deployed in Baghdad. This was January 2007 through April 2008, the Surge. The writing reminds me a lot of Tom Wolfe's nonfiction, particularly in "The Right Stuff". Looking at the events chronicled here, it's hard to see this as a "war" in the way most of us understand the concept. The assignment is basically to tame and reclaim a rundown neighborhood on the eastern wing of the city. On the sides of the roads are sewage trenches wide and deep enough to swallow a humvee. (And they do). The soldiers are set to restore order and morale to a place that has become lawless. Fourteen American deaths occur during the deployment, and numerous grisly injuries that would leave a lot of folks wishing for death. The soldiers are decent Americans who have a hard time understanding why the improvements they try to build (schools, sewage systems, swimming pools) keep getting sabotaged by the insurgent element. You can almost hear the voice of a parent saying, "This is why we can't have nice things". If this book makes one point, it is that, whether or not you agree with the United States being in Iraq at all, our troops are representing us humanely and well. ( )
  EricKibler | Apr 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
What is the responsibility of a writer? To describe events, or explain them? I, for one, am not sure. But one wonders if after six years, another vérité, day-by-day portrait of war is sufficient.
 
We pick up with the action in Iraq after approximately 3,000 soldiers have been killed and some 25,000 wounded. The numbers are a backdrop to Finkel’s real drama, which by the book’s end rises to fever pitch. Had they made a difference, the men of the 2-16 begin to wonder. Were they still “good soldiers”?

Answering that question is the fascinating core of this ferociously reported, darkly humorous and spellbinding book. As Finkel describes it, the men of the 2-16 struggled to be decent in a terrifying environment.
 
It is Mr. Finkel’s accomplishment in this harrowing book that he not only depicts what the Iraq war is like for the soldiers of the 2-16 — 14 of whom die — but also the incalculable ways in which the war bends (or in some cases warps) the remaining arc of their lives.
 
Though I can't help wishing Finkel had probed into the origins and nature of this particular conflict (why exactly are we fighting? who exactly are those bad guys planting bombs to drive us from their country?), his book is a necessary and powerful reminder that wars are declared by politicians far from the killing fields; the idealistic soldiers and innocent civilians are the ones, on the ground, suffering and dying.
 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374165734, Hardcover)

Book Description It was the last-chance moment of the war. In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq. He called it "the surge." "Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Well, here are the differences," he told a skeptical nation. Among those listening were the young, optimistic army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, the battalion nicknamed the Rangers. About to head to a vicious area of Baghdad, they decided the difference would be them.

Fifteen months later, the soldiers returned home forever changed. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel was with them in Bagdad almost every grueling step of the way.

What was the true story of the surge? Was it really a success? Those are the questions he grapples with in his remarkable report from the front lines. Combining the action of Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down with the literary brio of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, The Good Soldiers is an unforgettable work of reportage. And in telling the story of these good soldiers, the heroes and the ruined, David Finkel has also produced an eternal tale--not just of the Iraq War, but of all wars, for all time.

Faces of the Surge
Beneath every policy decision made in the highest echelons of Washington about how a war should be fought are soldiers who live with those decisions every day. These are some of the faces of the U.S. strategy known as "the surge," as photographed by David Finkel, author of The Good Soldiers.



Soldiers of the 2-16 Rangers wait
for permission to enter a mosque.


Two soldiers try to collect themselves after
their Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.


Sergeant Adam Schumann, regarded as
one of the battalion's best soldiers on the
day he was sent home with severe post
-traumatic stress disorder.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In the tradition of "Black Hawk Down," The Good Soldiers takes an unforgettable look at the heroes and the ruined soldiers fighting in the Iraq War.

» see all 3 descriptions

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