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The Good Soldiers (2009)

by David Finkel

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7702920,621 (4.2)30
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.

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I first heard about this book on This America Life where actors read excerpts from the book. Based on these excerpts I had thought the structure would be similar to “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam” which I had really liked. I downloaded the audio version and found that it was not written in this fashion at all, but in more of a linear narrative, focusing basically on one main character, Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich.

The narrative follows one battalion, the 2-16, during the surge in Iraq. Finkel covers a lot of ground: operations, strategy, politics, the home front, causalities, the wounded and their post care, and even gives background on an Iraqi National who is an interpreter for them. While he does touch on all of these subjects and more, he doesn’t focus on any one thing, other than the causalities, and since he didn’t spend a lot of time telling you about these individual soldiers they all become a blur.

I have to say that when I found out early in the book that Colonel Kauzlarich had been one of the investigators into the death of Pat Tillman (ex-football star killed by friendly fire), my whole attitude about him changed. While Finkel makes him a three dimensional character (shows us his good side, his blunt side, his frustrated side, his family side etc.), I couldn’t help thinking throughout the book that he knew about the massive cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death, but still went on a radio talk show after Tillman’s death and said that Tillman’s family couldn’t get over it because of their religious beliefs (they were atheists) and therefore couldn’t handle that he would just be worm dirt. Is that what a “Good Soldier” says about a family whose son’s death he knew to have been part of a massive cover-up? While I’m not saying he had to be PC about it (soldiers usually aren’t), why did he have to say anything at all which just added fuel to the fire when he very well knew why this family couldn’t get it over it; it makes me question his good judgment, and how much more he knew about the cover-up. Needless to say because Kauzlarich was such a major part of the storyline the whole book was a bit tainted for me.

The Tillman situation aside, I have to say I was not “blown away” by this book. For those who were, I must assume this is the first book about war they have ever read. War is War. There are some wars that have clearly defined Good Guys and Bad Guys (WWII), Winners and Losers (WWII), and then there are other wars like Vietnam where the objectives and enemies are less clearly defined. When I was reading this I felt like I was reading about the Vietnam war only set in the dessert. People lose their lives in wars, they lose body parts, they lose friends, they lose their sanity, and they lose their innocence. All of these things happened in this book, as it has in all of the wars we have been in--this is not new. The soldiers questioning “Why are we here?,” is not new (Vietnam all over again). The real question is, “Did we not learn anything from Vietnam?”

What this book does do, is it brings this war to the forefront of your conscious. It makes you think about it, instead of it just being another small news story that is quickly forgotten. And for that I would actually give it 3.5 stars.
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  tshrope | Jan 13, 2020 |
A grueling, depressing book about the 2007 “surge” in Iraq from the perspective of a group of American soldiers. Finkel is at his most harrowing when describing the physical wounds inflicted by modern combat, though the psychic damage also comes through as well. They’re very good soldiers, but there is a hollowness at the core of the fight, and that matters—to them and to us. ( )
  rivkat | Aug 30, 2018 |
I cannot think of a book that has delivered more powerful prose. "An EFP exploding from a trash pile is nothing like an EFP exploding from a water buffalo carcass." That's an example of the more mundane, matter-of-fact narrative. Powerful narrative comes like storm waves throughout the book. It certainly has its share of Rambo-like scenarios, but it is not a "shoot 'em up" war story, but an extremely personal accounting of a single U.S. Army platoon during the "surge" in Iraq. And a word of warning to those with a particular sensitivity to profanity...this book has its share, but if the profanity is what disturbs you most about this book, I suggest you go back to the store and buy yourself a new soul. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
If you care about anyone who puts their lives, not only on hold, but, on the line in defense of this nation and her people, continue reading. The book, The Good Soldiers written by David Finkel, a staff writer for The Washington Post, is a gritty, in your face look at current warfare.

In the book Finkel follows the 2-16 IN BN, from Ft. Riley, Kansas through their deployment to Iraq, where, instead of escorting convoys and securing roads in the western part of the country, they become part of The Surge to increase security in Baghdad. The view is very direct and forward. There is no sugar coating to be had, just ass deep in the shit, not only, with the troops on the ground but, also the aftermath of IEDs and EFPs sent home to the families.

You get a first hand look at not just the external face of war, but the internal face as well. While the external face is gritty and sometimes gory to the point of destroying the prospective of the bigger picture; the internal face is raw and tormenting, struggling in a life and death battle that pits compassion against sheer existence. Finkel does a copious accounting of warfare on the people right in the middle of the blast crater. The journey that starts with honor and motivation ends with acceptance and resignation, yet hope while metamorphosed manages to survive in some corners.

While, this read is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, if you can handle it, it should be a must read for ALL Americans. ( )
  CassiMerten | Mar 22, 2018 |
This is the first book since The Things They Carried that made war uncomfortably--palpably & emotionally--present for me. Not having personal experience of war, I cannot judge if this is an accurate portrayal. What I can say is that the vision of young men in combat that Finkel offers is powerfully evocative, complex & devastating. ( )
  reganrule | Oct 24, 2017 |
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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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His soldiers weren't yet calling him the Lost Kauz behind his back, not when this began.
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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.

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Average: (4.2)
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1921640065, 1921844469

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