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Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier's Perspective Paperback – May 1, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Lieutenant Rieckhoff and his 38-man infantry platoon spent 10 months in one of the most volatile areas of Baghdad, trying to maintain order, protect civilians, track down insurgents, and protect themselves from snipers and bombers. It quickly became clear that the American mission in Iraq had vague strategy, flawed tactics, and overchallenged, underequipped soldiers. Rieckhoff made it back alive, determined to tell the truth about what was happening and demand accountability from elected officials. Although Rieckhoff does not emphasize it, it comes through clearly that Iraq War veterans are held in declining respect, evidenced by the problems they have getting help with war-related injuries, especially psychological ones. Iraq has been a rich man's war and a poor man's fight, with the Iraqi people barely visible in the American media. Moreover, Rieckhoff's experiences showed him that censorship and bias abound even in these days of "on-the-spot" reporting, distorting what anyone following the war through the general media can learn. A most commendable eyewitness report on Iraq. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Five months after Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq hit bookshelves, Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America From Baghdad to Washingtonjoined it.

It turns out Cobraand Ghosts are combat companions. Cobra is scholarly and objective. Ghosts is personal and political. Michael R. Gordon and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor's Cobra explains how top leaders theorized a war. Army National Guard 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff's Ghosts explains how one platoon tested the theory.

"Not even two weeks after the world had been told 'mission accomplished,' my platoon [3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment] saw our first major enemy contact in Baghdad," Rieckhoff writes. With irony, he paraphrases Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "We were at war with the army we had. The one the Department of Defense created for us. Thanks, Don."

Rieckhoff's wit and confidence--and frustration--form his story. A reader might wish somebody would remind the lieutenant that he joined the military and is in combat. No need. Rieckhoff is the first to admit he chose to serve and the first to try to right wrongs.

The proactive patriot visited a recruiter in Amherst, Mass., in 1998, when college kids weren't exactly lining up to [serve] in defense of freedom. In a democracy the military should be representative of the population. Just because I didn't have to go [into the military] didn't mean I shouldn't go.

When he did go to war, from 2003 to 2004, he saw that--as American soldiers in Baghdad, we were placed in an environment where the entire moral structure was crumbling.

The physical environment wasn't solid, either. "The heat, the shooting, the outdated flak jackets, the lack of information, the s----y chow, the [improvised explosive devices], the sight of our wounded buddies, the lack of sex, the holidays missed, the boredom, the uncertainty, the complete and total lack of control over our own lives," Rieckhoff writes. "So many reasons to be pissed."

So many reasons to be exhilarated, too: "I would never again have this much unadulterated power in my life. I could detain, harass, question and beat anyone I liked, at any time. It felt good. And I felt guilty that it felt good."

Rieckhoff's measure is whether he can serve the Constitution and the commander in chief. "My entire role in the war was a paradox: Against the war from the beginning, I volunteered to go fight in it," he writes.

After "countless raids in Baghdad," he decides the Pentagon is not aware of cultural differences. "America cannot win in Iraq without dramatically changing its course," Rieckhoff writes. "A lot depends on how American troops conduct themselves after a search is completed" how they react when they are wrong. ... Raids too often leave families, neighborhoods, seething with anti-American rage."

There is little relief from anguish when Rieckhoff completes his 10-month tour. During outprocessing, he discovers "physical examinations for returning soldiers were not mandatory," so he orders his platoon to get physicals.

In Manhattan, he sees "urban hipsters and hip-hop roughnecks wearing Army field jackets and camouflage to be cool" and laughs. He sees a Starbucks customer outraged by a major crisis "an improperly fitting cup lid" and he wants to scream. His jaw, he writes, "literally hurt from gritting my teeth and holding things in."

Holding back is not Rieckhoff’s style. He becomes comfortable being interviewed in the news media. He founds the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. As its executive director, he advocates on behalf of service members and is an outspoken critic of the war. He writes a book.

How does "Ghosts" compare to memoirs such as John Crawford's poignant The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell, Jason Hartley's irreverent Just Another Soldier and Nathaniel Fick's descriptive and dramatic One Bullet Away? The hallmark of Ghosts is conviction told with clarity: "The brother of someone we killed in Baghdad is plotting right now to blow up the 6 train in New York, the Staples Center in L.A., your local mall. One major difference between Iraq and Vietnam: This war will follow us home." -- J. Ford Huffman, USA Today

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: NAL; Reprint edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451221214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451221216
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,497,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Adam S. Meents on February 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
For four years I had privileged access to classified military information as an Operation Specialist in the United States Navy. Not long after I obtained a security clearance, I came to the sobering revelation that once my tour was over I would be mainly dependent on the same old convoluted media coverage the rest of us are accustomed to.

My enlistment ended four years before we invaded Iraq. Therefore, I had a hard time painting in my mind what was really happening in Iraq. I did not want to assume the media was painting a complete picture -- they never did when I served.

At last Paul Rieckhoff's strikling articulate memoir "Chasing Ghosts" hit the shelves and provided that breath of fresh air (reality) I had been feverishly waiting for.

Paul does an excellent job of presenting the good, the bad, and the ugly of his ten month experience as a Second Lieutenant in the National Guard in Baghdad. The lead up to be Paul's deployment, and the fight on the homefront after his tour had ended is equally intriguing.

I am not a big fan of telling people what they "should" or "ought" to do or read. But if you have not experienced Iraq first hand, you really should read this book to at least get some perspective the media will not offer. Perception rules over reality too much in our society. We need some fresh perspective to help ensure our fallen troops and innocent Iraqis have not died in vain.

Paul Rieckhoff has fought very hard and very bravely to not only protect us, but also to enlighten us. "Chasing Ghosts" offers us the inspiration we need to fuel the support necessary to make a difference. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading this book was a really wierd experience for me. I deployed to Iraq with B Co, 2/124 INF out of Sanford, FL. It was almost like reading a story about my own life that someone else wrote and lived.

We didn't see much of 3rd Bat after we left Stewart, but overall the experiences were remarkably similar in the trends, if not the details. One Catch-22 absurdity that wasn't mentioned in the book is that before we came home, we had been extended so many times that the one year ID cards we were issued at the start of the deployment for a "worst case scenario" all expired so every soldier in the Brigade had to get issued new military IDs - in Iraq.

If anything, the book glosses over the gross incompetence and complete disconnet most higher level leaders were operating under. Like the LTC who told one of our Squad Leaders to put his kids in foster care after the guy's wife had nervous breakdown upon hearing the news of our third tour extension. Or the number of translators we lost because we weren't allowed to go into the towns and protect them. The new to Iraq active duty units that didn't want to hear anything the "Nasty Guard" had to say about the territory and towns they were about to patrol through - a week later 2ID had about a dozen Strykers in the graveyard. My personal favorite was the armor Colonel from 4ID I met at Landstuhl who I had to explain to that no, the war wasn't over just because the President said so.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get more involved than the standard for this war, which so far seems to be "I bought a magnetic yellow bumber sticker!" As someone who was in a lot of the same places at the same times, I didn't find a single thing in it that didn't ring true.
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Format: Hardcover
Like many Americans, I've been less-than-pleased with how the Iraqi war has played out. The reasons for going into action were likely fabricated, and now we find ourselves trapped in a morass with no easy way out. After reading Chasing Ghosts : A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington by Paul Rieckhoff, I'm more convinced than ever that our political leadership has completely failed both Iraq *and* America.

Rieckhoff was a National Guardsman who signed up knowing that he'd likely see action in the Middle East. He was committed to the cause and was ready to help the Iraqi people realize their freedom under a democracy. What happened was far different. He and 38 other ill-trained soldiers were put in charge of protecting a hot zone that included a hospital where they had set up base. Grossly understaffed with faulty equipment, they ended up doing the best they could with what they had, risking their lives on a daily basis. The leadership in command there seemed to be completely out of touch with the reality of the war in the streets, and the politicians at home were presenting a view of the Iraqi situation that was diametrically opposite of what the troops were facing. After having their tours extended numerous times with little warning, he finally made it home after nearly a year of service in the heart of Baghdad. His view and outlook on life upon his return had totally changed, and he decided that he had to be a voice to speak out for the servicemen and women who were on the front lines of a war that was only getting worse. He offered his services to both presidential candidates during the 2004 election, but no one wanted to confront those issues head on.
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