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The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War
 
 
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The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War [Hardcover]

Brandon Friedman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This cynical but appealing memoir by a lieutenant in the elite 101st Airborne recounts his unpleasant times fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. After a quick review of his youth (shy, smart, dreaming of glory), Friedman describes his unit's deployment to Afghanistan after 9/11 to fight the Taliban. Its mission turns out to be guarding an air base, four months of demoralizing boredom followed by urgent orders into battle. The result is an exhausting 11-hour march high into freezing mountains, where the soldiers arrive as the fighting ends. A year later, as American forces invade Iraq in March 2003, Friedman's unit advances almost to Baghdad without encountering resistance but yearning to fight. There follows three months of dull occupation duty until, to everyone's horror, a grenade kills two soldiers on patrol, and the insurgency begins. The author accepts that America needed to fight in Afghanistan, but can't fathom why we invaded Iraq. He does not re-enlist. Given the public's waning support for the war in Iraq, Friedman's voice is likely to be heard by sympathetic ears. (Aug. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Publishers Weekly, June 25, 2007

“This cynical but appealing memoir by a lieutenant in the elite 101st Airborne recounts his unpleasant times fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. After a quick review of his youth (shy, smart, dreaming of glory), Friedman describes his unit's deployment to Afghanistan after 9/11 to fight the Taliban. Its mission turns out to be guarding an air base, four months of demoralizing boredom followed by urgent orders into battle. The result is an exhausting 11-hour march high into freezing mountains, where the soldiers arrive as the fighting ends. A year later, as American forces invade Iraq in March 2003, Friedman's unit advances almost to Baghdad without encountering resistance but yearning to fight. There follows three months of dull occupation duty until, to everyone's horror, a grenade kills two soldiers on patrol, and the insurgency begins. The author accepts that America needed to fight in Afghanistan, but can't fathom why we invaded Iraq. He does not re-enlist. Given the public's waning support for the war in Iraq, Friedman's voice is likely to be heard by sympathetic ears.”



Dallas Morning News

Throughout this terse and emotionally honest memoir, Mr. Friedman is equally introspective as he is descriptive. This allows readers to experience things alongside him, rather than merely gasp in awe at his heroics or sit clucking in judgment....This intimacy differentiates his book from other fine, if partisan, war memoirs that have come before it this summer: the wry and cynical Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green by the pseudonymous Jonny Rico, and Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's flag-waving Lone Survivor....No, Mr. Friedman's wartime experience wasn't worthy of winning him a Medal of Honor (he did earn two Bronze Stars) or even an option for a Hollywood screenplay, but it did endow him with a wisdom beyond his years. Surviving a war, it seems, takes a bit of luck; coping with the memory and aftermath of one takes maturity.


Army/Navy/Marine Corps/Air Force Times, Nov. 3, 2007

“Friedman’s take is vivid, frank, precise, and dramatic. Currently a contributor to the Daily Kos blog, Friedman served as an officer in Afghanistan and Iraq – but his being served ouzo in Greece is the book’s dramatic zenith, a tense account in which he successfully evokes feelings of being entrapped, of being duped, of being near harm. These feelings illustrate the effect of war and politics on one veteran fresh off the lines.”
             
The Viginian-Pilot, Dec.  2, 2007

“A candid, timely combat memoir … Well-written by an intellectual man, this book recalls classics such as Goodbye Darkness, The Coldest War, With the Old Breed, and countless others. Friedman offers frank descriptions and commentary about the incongruity of daily events, the deadly cruelty of an implacable enemy, and the terrible accidents that plague any large operation.” 

 

From the Inside Flap

Growing up in the shadows of the giant B-52 Stratofortresses that thundered away from nearby Barksdale, Louisiana, Air Force Base in defense of the free world, Brandon Friedman imagined growing up to be a warrior, proudly defending his country from enemies who would seek to oppress America. Ultimately, his path led him not to the U.S. Air Force and the life of a pilot, but to the U.S. Army and life as a soldier.

 

And not just any soldier, as an infantryman, a soldier who gets up close and personal with his foe in the kill or be killed arena that is close combat. Joining the Army in a world more or less at peace as a young officer, the new second lieutenant imagined proving his valor as he earned glory in the crucible of war. Then came 9/11 and the Army moved from a peaceful repose to full-fledged combat operations half a world away against al Qaeda, a new and illusive enemy, and their Taliban hosts.

 
As an infantry platoon leader in the elite 101st Airborne Division, the famed “Screaming Eagles,” Friedman and his unit soon found themselves in Afghanistan battling radical Islam in the high valleys of the Hindu Kush in Operation Anaconda. After a brief respite at their home base of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Friedman and the Screaming Eagles were off to war again, this time for the invasion and then occupation of Iraq.


 In this coming-of-age memoir of a young combat leader, we follow Brandon Friedman as he comes to grips with the illusion of glory in the face of the disillusion caused by the realities war as the situation in Iraq spirals increasingly out of control.

 

From the Back Cover

“An insight into to the chaos of combat . . . puts readers onto the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq and straight into the action.”

—Colonel R. Alan King, author,

Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq

 

The “war he always wanted” took him to the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq as a young infantry officer in the elite 101st Airborne Division. For Lieutenant Brandon Friedman, however, the reality of his war fell far short of his youthful fantasies of combat heroism: he never stormed a beach, he never ducked tracer fire while parachuting onto an enemy-held airfield, and his best buddy didn’t die in Brandon’s arms talking about his mom and the girl back home.

 

There was nothing Hollywood about it. In a literary style reminiscent of the late Kurt Vonnegut, Friedman helps readers understand the apparent contradiction of soldiers who can reflect upon the worst period in their lives as “a pretty good time.”

 

From the book: “When the bomb hit, the sound was deafening. It made the air vibrate. For the split second in which the mountainside was alight from the explosion, I could see trees swaying from the shockwave. I could see embers blowing off branches and into the snow. Kneeling, I watched as two more bombs struck the mountain in quick succession, causing the same set of effects. It was then that I noticed Sergeant Collins had moved forward from the back of the column. He was kneeling next to me. When he saw me looking at him through my night vision, he pointed to the mountain. Then he whispered, measuring out each word carefully, ‘A man’s got to know his limitations.’ ”

About the Author

Brandon Friedman served as an infantry platoon leader and company executive officer with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He participated in both Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan and in the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent insurgency. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Prologue

First there were mountains. Then there was a desert. And now, sometimes, there are flashbacks. Not full-blown flashbacks, I guess. They're more like super memories--and they creep up on me. Stopped in Dallas traffic (behind one of the gun trucks) I glance out of the window of my car and see business people (Iraqis) standing on the street corner (wearing dishdashas) talking (waving at me) on cell phones. My eyes instinctively scan for weapons. Listening to a commercial on the radio, I hear a man's voice (one of my squad leaders) selling ("1-6, he's gone down again, over") new cars. I come home to write, and the chair (green army cot) on which I'm sitting makes a familiar creaking noise as I shift (toss and turn), and it reminds me of trying to sleep. Other times it is the craggy earth at nien thousand feet under my worn combat boots. The weight of a Kevlar helmet on my head. The barrels of burning shit. It all sort of blends together.

Sometimes when I look back, I think, "Man, I spent over two years dealing with those fucking wars, and I never saw any real combat--not the way I always envisioned it as a kid at least." I never stormed a beach. I never ducked tracer fire while parachuting onto an enemy-held airfield. And my best buddy didn't die in my arms talking about his mom and his girl back home, either. Where I was, everything was so much more vague than that.

But I did watch a two-thousand-pound bomb strike the earth less than thirty yards from me and my platoon. In army-speak, that was what we would call a "significant emotional event." And I did shoot some guys--even killed one of them. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it was a pretty big deal to me. I saw soldiers bending under the stress of guerilla war in mountains and in cities. I met Iraqi translators who walked the thin line between patriotism and treason every day, for months on end. I ate in their homes. I watched their neighbors call them traitors. I could have easily died at least half a dozen times that I know of. I was scared that I was going to die a hundred times that number.

The idea that war changes people is clichéd, but it's true. Going into it, I always thought I'd be above that--immune to it, too well trained for it to affect me, too professional. I thought we were beyond all that Vietnam/posttraumatic stress shit. But now I'm in on it.

I have been enlightened.

Now I fear that part of me will always be there--and that that part of me is never coming home. Ever. I'm sure my body will be here, and I'll walk around work or school talking to people, smiling and telling them what it was like and what I'll be doing this weekend and so on. But I'm just not really here.

Instead, I am somewhere else. I'm wearing what has now become old-fashioned desert camouflage. I am thousands of miles from home, in a strange, dusty land where the people speak a language I don't understand. And I am carrying a gun.

I wonder if it will always be this way.

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