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Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage…
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Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War

by Matt Gallagher

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Kaboom doesn't read as a story (versus, for example, Colby Buzzell's memoir), because it's not a story, it's a collection of everything Gallagher found crucial to record and explain. There's material here that could be expanded into several memoirs, or novels. For example, observe how much information is summarized in this one paragraph, and consider how many scenes a novel would take to convey the same information: Specialist Wildebeest buddied up to the sources, offering them cigarettes and smiles. Their terp, Eddie, an Iraqi American who lived in Chicago as a construction worker before he came back to Iraq as an interpreter, knew how and when to call the Iraqis out on their bullshit and when to simply inform us quietly that he thought they had lied. Sergeant Secret Agent Man served as the details man, jotting down notes, backtracking and shifting gears constantly, as a method of pinning down specifics and occasionally catching the sources in lies and exaggerations. Staff Sergeant Sitting Bull brought it all together, though, bringing a cold intimidation factor to the meetings that most intelligence soldiers were simply incapable of.

In his acknowledgements, Gallagher credits his editor's passion for the book, and so do I, because the book is exceptionally well-crafted. The organization, the section titles, the placement of pictures, and the sentence construction are flawless; and the book provides just the right amount of context and explanation of Iraqi politics, COIN, and military manuevers.

This book excels in its description of the "disconnect between what happens on the ground and what people want to be happening on the ground," the disconnect between junior and field grade officers, the disconnect between soldiers and civilians, and the disconnect between Americans and Iraqis; conversely, this book also excels in the description of the connections that occur despite all the disconnects. Matt Gallagher learned a lot in fifteen months, and in this book he did a superlative job of compressing, analyzing, and describing his experiences. ( )
  read.to.live | Aug 28, 2011 |
Good writing, but didn't have any action like I expected. ( )
  books4pat | Dec 20, 2010 |
There is not much boom in Kaboom. Gallagher's account of his 2008 post-Surge Iraq tour of duty reads, stripped of the Iraq references, like a cop on the beat story. He divides his time between patrols, drinking tea with the sheiks, horsing around with his buddies and blogging about his experiences. In order to hand over Bush's war to the Democrats, Petraeus essentially paid protection money to all the bad guys. Gallagher was one of the guys handing out those bundles of cash. At first, the Pentagon was delighted with his blogging that enthusiastically supported COIN, but the love died when their poster boy blogged about leaving the army. His superiors transfer the bad apple from the cavalry to the infantry (a slight reputational demotion, if I understand the US army correctly) while still promoting him to captain.

Gallagher's memoir follows the classic The Hobbit quest pattern: A young, naive ROTC graduate travels to a foreign country, experiences the futility of war and the stupidity of the world's largest bureaucracy to return home to the shire to tell about his adventures. Now, ROTC selects for a certain Hufflepuff kind of people. On the positive side, this prevents him from joining the Voldemoort worshipers which run the Pentagon. On the negative side, he fails to connect the dots when he realizes that the policies are not working. He accepts and regurgitates much of the propaganda he is supplied. This lets him spout mean and wrong statements such as these: "Ever heard of the Articles of Confederation, Mister Unkempt Iraqi Man addicted to the hand-out? That era made the Paul Bremer years look like pure genius." This is just insultingly wrong on so many levels (no British Abu Grahib). A much better analogy would have been the failed US reconstruction after the Civil War. Forcing Shias and Sunnis to shake hands and be BFF has as much chance of success as uniting former slaves and their former slave owners. Given the recent Wikileaks revelations, the author's claim that "while the military had its own share of scandals over the course of the war, the institution itself held grander ambitions and higher purposes than financial benefit" (compared to the rather greedy contractors) sounds especially naive. Most terrible deeds in history were perpetrated under lofty banners.

To see through those false analogies requires both historical knowledge and analytical capabilities. One has just to look at the US army recommended reading lists to see that both elements are not sought. Adding "A quiet American" and "A bright shining lie" might be detrimental to the current failed war efforts but help fight future wars smarter. In contrast to the (old) German and Israeli army, the US army does not seek smart officers. Even Gallagher's benign questioning of US efforts in Iraq lets him run afoul within the war machinery. Gallagher was lucky to escape from the war relatively unharmed, as will the reader of his book which serves both as an unadventurous adventure story and an undigested account of the futility of COIN. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Nov 5, 2010 |
What makes this war memoir affecting is that the author, no matter what his travails, doesn't kid himself that he is any more than a type in a traditional story; he's not the first smart-ass junior officer to run afoul of authority and he won't be the last. Apart from giving you the dirty-boots feel of what the day-in/day-out grind of working counter-insurgency feels like, and dealing forthrightly with his own limitations and doubts, Gallagher seems to make his points about the current institutional issues of the Big Green Machine not from a lingering sense of resentment but from a true enthusiasm for the service. ( )
1 vote Shrike58 | Aug 20, 2010 |
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This incessant obsession with money, from the sheiks to the terps all the way down to little Mojo, cannot be overstated. It was absolutely vital to the continued development of Iraq and the American military's success in the Iraq War. While it often seemed blatantly crude, who was I, a suburbanite who had always lived in comfort, to question it? I had never known poverty or the desperation it brings.
That has always been man's greatest tragedy, hasn't it? It's not the doubting of God's intentions, or even of His existence, that really tears apart our souls. It's that we honestly believe we'd do a better job than Him if granted the opportunity.
Were my actions recklessly immature? Yes, I figured out later that they were, but only after I returned home and regained some safety and perspective. I had neither of these comforts at the time. These actions were also undeniably genuine. And after six soul-draining months in Iraq, authenticity meant far more to me at the time than maturity did.
Out of the wire, corporals made daily decisions that held strategic-level consequences. On the FOB, majors couldn't shade a PowerPoint slide a particular color without getting prior approval.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306818809, Hardcover)

When Lieutenant Matt Gallagher began his blog with the aim of keeping his family and friends apprised of his experiences, he didn’t anticipate that it would resonate far beyond his intended audience. His subjects ranged from mission details to immortality, grim stories about Bon Jovi cassettes mistaken for IEDs, and the daily experiences of the Gravediggers—the code name for members of Gallagher’s platoon. When the blog was shut down in June 2008 by the U.S. Army, there were more than twentyfive congressional inquiries regarding the matter as well as reports through the military grapevine that many high-ranking officials and officers at the Pentagon were disappointed that the blog had been ordered closed.

Based on Gallagher’s extraordinarily popular blog, Kaboom is “at turns hilarious, maddening, and terrifying,” providing “raw and insightful snapshots of a conflict many Americans have lost interest in” (Washington Post). Like Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead, Gallagher’s Kaboom resonates with stoic detachment and timeless insight into a war that we are still trying to understand.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:06 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When Lieutenant Matt Gallagher began his blog with the aim of keeping his family and friends apprised of his experiences, he didn't anticipate that it would resonate far beyond his intended audience. His subjects ranged from mission details to immortality, grim stories about Bon Jovi cassettes mistaken for IEDs, and the daily experiences of the Gravediggers--the code name for members of Gallagher's platoon. When the blog was shut down in June 2008 by the U.S. Army, there were more than twentyfive congressional inquiries regarding the matter as well as reports through the military grapevine that many high-ranking officials and officers at the Pentagon were disappointed that the blog had been ordered closed.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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