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 "The heat, the shooting, the outdated flak jackets, the lack of information, the s----y chow, the [improvised explosive devices], the sight of our wounded buddies, the lack of sex, the holidays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 Rieckhoffs 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.