32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq" is the cumulative result of journalist Christian Parenti's three trips to Iraq. He examines the occupation through the eyes of all involved parties--from the soldiers and marines who serve there to the Iraqis whose country has fallen into complete chaos. Parenti takes us to the land where "the freedom" lays waste a country, and it's here, Parenti argues that we see "the Conradian end of the river where empire's lawless opportunities mix with personal madness to form a potent political and psychedelic cocktail."
In a sympathetic fashion, Parenti interviews several members of 3rd Battalion of the 124th Infantry--National Guardsmen from North Florida. When not on patrol, the guardsmen live in cramped quarters where the men suffer from water rationing, chronic boredom, and ever-delayed, morale-crushing departure dates.
With his faithful and colourful translator, Akeel, Parenti makes several dangerous sorties into Iraq--beyond the fortified Green Zone ("a clean air-conditioned oasis") and talks to Iraqis who are willing to tell their stories. Some are victims of checkpoint incidents; others survive after their families are wiped out in incidents hurriedly covered up and termed 'mistakes'. And some Iraqis make the trip to Abu Gharib to see their incarcerated family members.
Parenti also details the carpet-bagging atmosphere in Iraq--the ridiculous so-called 'reconstruction' that has escalated into a free-for-all. "The idea of American imperial beneficence and competence" in action is an opportunity to loot millions in reconstruction money. "Iraqi reconstruction is a racket", says Parenti as he describes the projects which, according to reconstruction companies, are underway, when in reality, the country is in ruins, and billions are 'missing'. "One 'repaired' school, for example was overflowing with raw sewage." Parenti interviews many Iraqis who hated Saddam, but are dismayed, distraught, and angry at America's dismantling of their economic and civil structure. Billions earmarked for Iraq has ended up in the pockets of contractors--one of whom--Halliburton--Parenti speculates would be facing bankruptcy without all those overly generous contracts from the U.S government. In a system smacking of nepotism, the book details the fact that many companies banned from gaining government contracts (for past fraud) are now happily engaged in the great Iraqi reconstruction rip-off--and this great rip-off had left Iraqis without electricity, water, and extremely angry. Gangs roam the streets raping girls--kidnappings and murders are daily events. Ironically, there's even a juicy quote from Dick Cheney made in 1991 predicting the anarchy that would follow the removal of Saddam.
Parenti lived in Iraq--and not in a protected, guarded area. This book is not a compilation of regurgitated approved PR reports--this is a record of a country's disintegration, and the details are simply mind-boggling. The author's powerful, brilliantly descriptive writing captures the chaos, the pathos, and the human tragedy of the war in Iraq. Thank you, Mr. Parenti for going beyond the milquetoast journalism of the masses--your book challenges us to "unplug from the Matrix" and judge for ourselves--displacedhuman
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2004
This book has been compared to Michael Herr's Dispatches and I think that's deserved. This is a crazy, creepy, scary, tragic and sometimes really funny story about the US occupation of Iraq. The author traveled around the Sunni Triangle over the first year and a half of the occupation. Unlike many books on Iraq that either cover US troops or just the civilian perspective, this guy embedded with US troops, saw some combat, met the resistance, hung with normal Iraqis and has some weird insights on the journalists and civilian occupiers. It's all combined into a vividly real and surreal portrait of the disaster that is unfolding in Iraq. He also works a lot of information about Iraq and Iraqis. I particularity like that the author, though harsh on American policy is sympathetic to the troops stuck with the job of carrying out the policy. It's a quick read, worth checking out.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2005
This book is a genuine depiction of my experiences in Al Fallujah. Mr. Parenti was one of few journalists to truly imbed himself with my platoon; often displaying more regard for his craft than his personal safety. I recommend "The Freedom" to the serious reader seeking a true depiction of our struggle to simultaneously fulfill the roles of warrior and statesman.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2005
This excellent book gives a vivid picture of the horrors of the US-British occupation of Iraq. It is now three and a half years since Bush promised to get `the people who knocked these buildings down'. Instead, he attacked the one Middle Eastern country where there was no Al Qa'ida.
What does the occupation mean? 40,000 prisoners, torture, atrocities, beatings, humiliation, intimidation, killings, death squads, house searches, raids, demolitions. No jobs, no water, no electricity, no rebuilding, no security. Power plants, telephone exchanges, sewage and sanitation systems all still in ruins.
The US government pledged $18.4 billion for rebuilding Iraq, but any money goes straight through to firms like Halliburton, which gets $1 billion of taxpayers' money every month, saving it from bankruptcy. (Cheney had bought Dresser Industries for $7.7 billion, without noticing that it owed billions in damages.)
Bechtel got the $1.8 billion contract to rebuild Iraq's water, sewage and electricity systems. Both Halliburton and Bechtel have been fined for corrupt practice. Another US firm got a $780 million contract, despite convictions for fraud on three federal projects and a total ban on receiving US government work.
The coalition gets ever smaller, the insurgency ever larger: the longer the occupiers stay, the more insurgents there seem to be.
Rumsfeld, while publicly promising a swift victory, said in a private memo that the USA is in for a `long, hard slog' in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cheney said in April 1991, "I think to have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside Iraq would fit the definition of quagmire, and we have absolutely no desire to get bogged down in that fashion."
It's an old story. T. E. Lawrence wrote in August 1920, "The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse that we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows."
We should be demanding that the troops come home, and let the people of Iraq run their country in the way that they want to. Imposing foreign rule is not democratic, but despotic.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Parenti's book provides a first-hand description of life in occupied Iraq, primarily the life of the occupiers, but also that of the occupied. None of this has been seen on the network news or read about in the corporate transcriptions of Pentagon PR that pass for newspapers in the United States. Yet much of it will be familiar - primarily from movies based on the war on Vietnam.
Through Parenti's well-told accounts of people and events, we see the horrors and blunders of war, the cruelty that can result from a language barrier, the trigger-happy fear, the pharmaceutical-induced courage, the bureaucratic nightmare for victims' families, the sociopathic humor of the deeply disturbed, and the conflicts between the corporate profiteers and decision makers and the U.S. National Guard troops brought in to do their bidding.
Parenti is a talented writer and observer, and he throws in asides about his own exploits that can occasionally seem out of place but serve as comic relief, bits that could have come from Hunter S. Thompson or Henry Miller. So, the book is entertaining. It's also honest - about the suffering caused by the Saddam Hussein regime, by those who have replaced it, and by the resistance.
If anything were to change the minds of those Americans still supporting this war - short of persuading television news to show images of what war does to human flesh and human families - it would be an account like this of what life is like on the ground in Iraq. But I'm afraid this account may not reach as many people as it otherwise might, because the dust-jacket and the early pages label this a book from the "liberal elite."
Parenti's preface says: "I have chosen descriptive reportage over a more analytical approach for a number of reasons. One is the surfeit of already existing radical analyses of the Iraq debacle...." Fine, but couldn't this explanation have come in an afterword? And, then, couldn't it have been followed more strictly? The few bits of analysis that slip into the book are mostly found toward the beginning and could have been moved to the end. The book could have opened with narrative and been packaged as simply an account of what's happening in Iraq. Instead, the dust-jacket carries praise from various lefties, a description of the book as an account of disastrously bad planning, and this quote from a Baghdad resident:
"Ah, the freedom. Look, we have the gas-line freedom, the looting freedom, the killing freedom, the rape freedom, the hash-smoking freedom. I don't know what to do with all this freedom."
That quote could have appeared in its place in the book, following descriptions that would have made it comprehensible to red staters who support their president.
What did Parenti hope to accomplish with this book? It's not clear that he believes in the possibility of convincing anyone of anything they do not already agree with. He describes U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq as wondering what the war is for but having no answers:
"Talking to these young soldiers, I begin to feel that many of them didn't have the skills to answer their own questions. They have satellite TV and internet access, but putting the bits and pieces together - some BBC here, a critical article from the Net there - is a rare thing on most military bases. Usually the war is framed as patriotic duty or through the narrative of private personal trauma."
Parenti closes the book with a description of the intense struggle soldiers have fitting into peaceful society when they make it back to the Unites States. And he finds no increase in the soldiers' understanding of the war:
"This group of guys, recently forced to spend a year of their young lives fighting an imperial war with global implications, are politically mute. They are neither pro-war, hopped up on patriotism, nor bitter, cynical and anti-war. Even when prodded by my occasional questions they are reluctant, or unable, to discuss the larger politics of what they have just lived."
All right, but what if a greater effort were made than occasional questions? What if a serious discussion were to follow the reading of this book?
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2005
Fantastic! Is worth more than a year's worth of CNN, NPR, and New York Times rolled into one. Parenti's foremost accomplishment is in letting his concise description of events in occupied Iraq speak for themselves. He has no heavy-handed agenda - just a clear sense of justice betrayed. The hypocrisy and ineptness of American policies glow frightfully from the pages of this priceless book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2005
Parenti's book is a great account of the many defiencies of our occupation in Iraq. Parenti searched many corners to get the truth that our media doesn't want people to get. I met Parenti when I was in Al Fallujah serving with the 82nd Airborne. I have to retort to the ridiculous accusations made by a certain Mike Tucker that Parenti is a liar and a coward. Parenti is no liar and no coward. Mike Tucker is just upset that Parenti portrayed him as a bumbling idiot. It is not an inaccurate portrayal at all. I can honestly say that myself and my cohorts thought Mike Tucker was some crazy burned-out vigilante type trying to get a piece of the action. As for the events of January 9th, 2004, I wasn't there so I can't say what actually happened. However, being the company armorer for Alpha 1-505, I was a part of the AAR (after action review) which took place later on that night. In AAR's, all the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants of our company gather with the company commander and first sergeant and discuss the mission, giving feedback. I remember Mike Tucker's name popping up in this certain AAR and there were complaints that he was trying to take matters into his own hands and that he was acting inappropriately as an embed. It was requested that he not be allowed to ride along on any further missions with our company. I guess you can take that for what it's worth.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2005
I've noticed, in some of the other reviews, a sad trend. To allow personal issues to turn people off to otherwise great literature is the first sign of despotism. Writing is about informing your audience, showing them what you've seen, not ridiculing and tearing down anyone who thinks differently than you do. I was in Baghdad, in Sector 17 when Parenti showed up. He was both professional and courteous. Months after his return stateside, he was still sending care packages and letters to us; even calling family members to let them know we were ok. To accuse someone who disagrees with your stance a coward and a liar is both excessive and juvenile. The Freedom painted a truthful, albeit unpopular picture of the war. Parenti refused to stick with the mainstream press coming out of Iraq, and instead wrote with his conscience, and I for one commend him for it. It is all to easy to write a "knee deep in it" type book. Parenti and I do not always agree on the politics involved, but he is no liar, and I can no more call him one than he can me. I have never read Mike Tucker's work, and now i never will. Not because i believe he is a poor writer, or a coward, or even a liar; but because the level to which he stooped with that review is so asinine that I no longer think he is deserving of my attention.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2005
No one who has met Mike Tucker could doubt his courage, ethusiasm and unique flamboyance. That said, Christian Parenti is no liar or coward, and the accusation goes too far for a book review on a sales site. Much of Mr. Tucker's vehemence appears to be the result of Parenti's portrayal of him in "The Freedom." He is well within his rights to be angry and to judge the book in any way he sees fit, but personal attacks by writers against other writers are more appropriate in the editorial pages of magazines.
I was present for all of Operation Dozer on the day in question. My filmmaking partner, Ian Olds and I followed Sgt. Corcione and Lt. Bacik for the entire day, and throughout the period of contact Tucker refers to. Christian Parenti, Mike Tucker, Ian Olds and I were visible to each other throughout the operation. I never saw anyone cowering and Parenti's account of the day is consistent with my memory. I haven't yet had the privilege of reading Mike Tucker's account, but I doubt anyone would accuse him of making up events. Why start with Parenti?
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2005
Christian Parenti's The Freedom is an invaluable account of the crime and tragedy that is the US occupation of Iraq. His work challenges a mainstream American media that refuses to even question Washington's "hallucinatory" proclamations of triumph in Iraq by more accurately documenting the destruction and chaos that US imperialism has wrought.
The author provides a compelling account of the grim facts of war, particularly through tales of his own gutsy forays far beyond the Green Zone into resistance strongholds like Falluja. But even more than that, the author shows a great compassion toward the people of Iraq who are suffering through occupation, and toward the US soldiers who are often unconvinced about the legitimacy of their mission. Parenti's sensitivity obviously elicits a mutual respect between himself and his subjects, which is particularly evident in his description of a post-Iraq follow-up with members of the Florida National Guard unit in which he had been embedded.
This book is a must read not only for the urgent wake-up call it provides in this age of imperialism, but also for its eloquent and thoroughly entertaining writing - both of which combine to make it one of the most important and relevant literary works of our day.