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The Fifth Act: America's End in…
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The Fifth Act: America's End in Afghanistan (edition 2022)

by Elliot Ackerman (Author)

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462551,119 (4.6)2
"A powerful and revelatory eyewitness account of the American collapse in Afghanistan, its desperate endgame, and the war's echoing legacy Elliot Ackerman left the American military ten years ago, but his time in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines and, later, as a CIA paramilitary officer marked him indelibly. When the Taliban began to close in on Kabul in August of 2021 and the Afghan regime began its death spiral, he found himself pulled back into the conflict. Afghan nationals who had, for years, worked closely with the American military and intelligence communities now faced brutal reprisal and sought frantically to flee the country with their families. The official US government evacuation process was a bureaucratic failure that led to a humanitarian catastrophe. With his former colleagues, and friends, protecting the airport in Kabul, Ackerman was drawn into an impromptu effort alongside a group of journalists, and other veterans, to arrange flights and negotiate with both Taliban and American forces to secure the safe evacuation of hundreds. These were desperate measures taken during a desperate end to America's longest war, but the success they achieved afforded a degree of redemption. And, for Ackerman, a chance to reconcile his past with his present. The Fifth Act is an astonishing human document that brings the weight of twenty years of war to bear on a single week at its bitter end. Using the dramatic rescue efforts in Kabul as his lattice, Ackerman weaves in a personal history of the war's long progress, beginning with the initial invasion in the months after 9/11. It is a play in five acts, the fifth act being the story's tragic denouement, a prelude to Afghanistan's dark future. Any reader who wants to understand what went wrong with the war's trajectory will find a trenchant accounting here. And yet The Fifth Act is not an exercise in finger-pointing: it brings readers into close contact with a remarkable group of characters, American and Afghan, who fought the war with courage and dedication, in good faith and at great personal cost. Understanding combatants' experiences and sacrifices while reckoning with the complex bottom line of the post-9/11 wars is not an easy balance; it demands reservoirs of wisdom and the gifts of an extraordinary storyteller. It asks for an author willing to grapple with certain hard-earned truths. In Elliot Ackerman, this story has found that author. The Fifth Act is a first draft of history that feels like a timeless classic"--… (more)
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Title:The Fifth Act: America's End in Afghanistan
Authors:Elliot Ackerman (Author)
Info:Penguin Press (2022), 288 pages
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The Fifth Act: America's End in Afghanistan by Elliot Ackerman

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I quite enjoyed this book, which is, without question, well thought out and well-written, although I was a bit bothered by its odd-duck hybrid construction. Part memoir, part political commentary, Elliot Ackerman's THE FIFTH ACT: AMERICA'S END IN AFGHANISTAN comes across as a perhaps overly critical assessment of how the war in Afghanistan was waged - for twenty years no less - and the author is especially angry and frustrated at how it was precipitously ended, with the barely planned and poorly executed pullout of the last US troops, leaving behind hundreds, perhaps thousands of loyal Afghan allies and their families who had worked for and with our forces, now exposed and vulnerable to the vengeful whims of the chaotic, newly formed Taliban government.

As an eight-year veteran of the Marine Corps who served tours in Afghanistan (and Iraq), followed by a briefer time as a CIA paramilitary operative in-country, Ackerman certainly has had "skin in the game," and personal knowledge and experience of that ill-conceived conflict, and it shows. His frustration is especially evident in the chapters where he is in nearly constant phone contact, via calls, texts and voice mail, with those left behind, trying desperately to arrange safe passage and evacuation for them in those final few days of the pullout. And these negotiations are oddly juxtaposed with his own current situation: he is on vacation in Europe with his wife and children.

I did very much enjoy the memoir chapters where he told of the enduring friendships he made during his training and deployments with the Corps. But Ackerman's most important premise here, which becomes crystal clear in the latter part of the book, seems to be the increasingly dangerous politicization of our all-volunteer forces. He notes -

"If this trend of increased military politicization seeps into the active-duty ranks, it could lead to dangerous outcomes, particularly around elections, and specifically a presidential one."

The author is also very much aware of the current political divide, and how cable news networks, especially FoxNews, have exacerbated this divide, noting: "The politicization of American life is swiftly becoming total, with virtually no opinion or thought existing outside the realm of partisan sorting."

Just as Eisenhower once warned about the military-industrial complex, Ackerman now warns us -

"Our passions are being inflamed and manipulated for profit by a political-industrial complex that feeds off our basest fears of one another."

There is indeed much to consider in this slim volume of "early history." I could not help but wonder if the author might one day use this book as a basis for a future run for political office. If so, he's got a good head start. Go for it, Elliot. America needs you. Very highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Mar 11, 2023 |
If you can get past the stunning naivety of a former CIA agent on European holiday concluding domestic political division is a novel factor in forever war, Ackerman provides a play-by-play of America's comprehensive failure to the Afghani people even in the last days of Kabul. ( )
1 vote Kavinay | Jan 2, 2023 |
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"A powerful and revelatory eyewitness account of the American collapse in Afghanistan, its desperate endgame, and the war's echoing legacy Elliot Ackerman left the American military ten years ago, but his time in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines and, later, as a CIA paramilitary officer marked him indelibly. When the Taliban began to close in on Kabul in August of 2021 and the Afghan regime began its death spiral, he found himself pulled back into the conflict. Afghan nationals who had, for years, worked closely with the American military and intelligence communities now faced brutal reprisal and sought frantically to flee the country with their families. The official US government evacuation process was a bureaucratic failure that led to a humanitarian catastrophe. With his former colleagues, and friends, protecting the airport in Kabul, Ackerman was drawn into an impromptu effort alongside a group of journalists, and other veterans, to arrange flights and negotiate with both Taliban and American forces to secure the safe evacuation of hundreds. These were desperate measures taken during a desperate end to America's longest war, but the success they achieved afforded a degree of redemption. And, for Ackerman, a chance to reconcile his past with his present. The Fifth Act is an astonishing human document that brings the weight of twenty years of war to bear on a single week at its bitter end. Using the dramatic rescue efforts in Kabul as his lattice, Ackerman weaves in a personal history of the war's long progress, beginning with the initial invasion in the months after 9/11. It is a play in five acts, the fifth act being the story's tragic denouement, a prelude to Afghanistan's dark future. Any reader who wants to understand what went wrong with the war's trajectory will find a trenchant accounting here. And yet The Fifth Act is not an exercise in finger-pointing: it brings readers into close contact with a remarkable group of characters, American and Afghan, who fought the war with courage and dedication, in good faith and at great personal cost. Understanding combatants' experiences and sacrifices while reckoning with the complex bottom line of the post-9/11 wars is not an easy balance; it demands reservoirs of wisdom and the gifts of an extraordinary storyteller. It asks for an author willing to grapple with certain hard-earned truths. In Elliot Ackerman, this story has found that author. The Fifth Act is a first draft of history that feels like a timeless classic"--

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