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Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge Hardcover – October 6, 2015
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"In this fascinating book, author Sjursen asks some searching questions which may leave some of the US commanders feeling uncomfortable."-- "Books Monthly"
“Ghost Riders of Baghdad is the best memoir to come out of the American wars in Southwest Asia. Sjursen’s honesty and passion bleed through every page and raise serious questions about the ‘victory’ in Iraq.” (Robert A. Doughty, author of Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War)
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I can only add my own words to his: those who pursue war as a means for profit, who abuse the sacrifices of our men and women who serve, their willingness to make even the supreme sacrifice, should be condemned to rot for eternity in the deepest dungeons of Hell.
It's an extremely rare perspective that questions everything about the war. The author's humility is laid out like a carpet underlying all the actions he reports. The motivations for getting into the war are questioned, the strategy and tactics questioned, the endless US propaganda exposed, the utter indifference to civilian casualties - the war effort from the White House on down becomes sickening to think about. Then, when all that expense, all the wasted monies on tanks, jets, ammo, bribes, the endless casualties, the beak down and ruin of Iraq's social fabric, when all is gathered in a bundle and weighed against its gain - defense industry profits - its value is worthless, wretched and unforgivable. Indictments, arrests, and trial should begin today.
That a book like this can escape the clawing censorship of the pentagon is baffeling.
He seems to be completely unaware of how the US military targeted power plants and water treatment facilities and hospitals during the invasion of Iraq and left the major cities unable to provide basic services. He comments on the high number of “mutant children” and fails to mention that birth defects are a magnitude greater in Iraq than anywhere else in the world and it has been attributed to the widespread use of radioactive munitions (“depleted” uranium which retains 95% of the lethality) by the US Air Force and the Army.
Most interesting were the author’s comments regarding his having too few men to maintain any semblance of control over the enormous area they were supposed to patrol. In June of 1999 the U.S. Central Command or USCENTCOM produced a Desert Crossing report and seminar and this report is easy to find and download from internet sources. This report recommended against a US invasion of the country and against having a “High Commissioner. If the US did invade then at least 300,000 ground troops were needed, however Bush-Cheney and Rumsfeld decided to commit half that number of soldiers. The report also stated that “U.S. involvement could last for at least 10 years”. The report also recommended against disbanding of the Iraq police forces and the Iraqi Army which was ignored by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. If the US undertook policing of the country it would require more than 600,000 ground troops to maintain control.
The author talks at length about the lack of appreciation by most Americans of the sacrifices made by the soldiers overseas and is oblivious to the facts that the Iraq invasion was to protect the US dollar after Saddam publicly stated his intention to switch to payment in Euros for the country’s oil.
Even later as he joined the troops in Afghanistan he is unaware of how the U.S. bases were located to protect the new Trans-Afghanistan oil pipeline running across the country from Azerbajaijan and Central Asia to Pakistan. Evidently the U.S. soldiers bought the lie that they were there to promote democracy. Doubly ironic considering how the CIA helped topple democratic governments in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to further British and American corporate interests in the region.
In 1935, US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote a short book “War is a Racket” that was based on his combat experiences in Central America, China, and the Philippines, where the marines were used to suppress any revolts by the people against their rulers. He came to realize that he was helping the bad guys.
He mentions how during the “surge” that he and his fellow soldiers had their tour of duty extended from 12 months to 15 months while the tour of duty for those in the Air Force, Navy, and the Marines, was only 7 months. Nonetheless he fails to appreciate how the ground troops, as always, were considered expendable and nothing more than canon fodder.
It was refreshing to read his disdain for all the “Support our Troops” bumper stickers by civilians who he feels should have been protesting against these wars if they really cared about the men and women in uniform.
George Orwell put it best when he stated "It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda tours."
Looking over the great reviews there is little to add other than your intention to better understand the past 18 years of war since 9/11 and the service members who have been deployed over and over again until they are broken.
If you have or had interest in what happened and why this is a must in your Library.
Top international reviews
I have never been involved with the military but like Sjursen am a keen historian, in my case an amateur.
Sjursen went to Iraq as a Lieutenant in 2006 as a 23 year old in charge of a platoon.
This book is largely the story of what went down for his platoon over a year or so, and Sjursen spares no graphic detail.
This is not just detail about actual fighting but about the setup, including relationships with the men, officers, and very important Iraqis. It also involves details about equipment, conditions, military strategy and a deep knowledge of Iraqi history going back to antiquity and in great detail in the present.
What I particularly liked about this book, as a keen student of modern political morasses like Sjursen is the explanation of the effects the Iraq war had on the sectarian situation in Iraq and elsewhere in the middle east, especially the civil war that supposedly wasn't, and the relationship between the experience of the soldiers on the ground and American public perception.
This is information which is not readily available, certainly not in the mainstream media. How key is it, that driven to desperation by the civil war which coincided with the American occupation and which was arguably caused by it, many Sunni insurgents during the Surge actually changed sides and worked with the Americans against the ISIS, and apparently very successful they were too.
Sjursen says they later changed sides again, many of them and joined ISIS who they had just been fighting. Sjursen does not really explain exactly why this was, but it was presumably because the further breakdown of the sectarian problem, infrastructure etc etc under the US occupation drove them to that in turn.
The heart of the book, beyond all this, was the life within the platoon including the comradeship, and the deaths and injuries of LT's close friends. Hence the tears.
This book is 'The Wire' gone to Baghdad. Its a holistic look at the situation from the dirty street to the Capitol.
I am deeply grateful to the author because he in my view manages to find balance and objectivity which is a great achievement.