Monday, November 19, 2007

Off Topic---Combat Soldiers Today, Iraq

We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder With the Marines Who Took Fallujah by Patrick K. O'Donnell, Da Capo Press, chronology, maps, notes, index, 244 pages, 2006, hardcover $25.00, 2007, paperback $15.95.

CWL---In its audio compact disk version, this book is an immersion experience. Leadership in combat is a strong element in We Were One and in this book the leaders get shot up. From boot camp, to training camp, to Kuwait, to Fallujah, Lima Company brings together a diverse and articulate group of young men, who are in many ways representative Americans.

I travelled to Gettysburg, PA and back from the Pittsburgh, PA metropolitan region, and for the nine hours it took, I was saturated with the story of this Marine company and its platoons. The strategy, tactics, and the boots on the ground received equal time from the author. Patrick K. O'Donnell had the distinct advantage of not representing any news gathering organization. He represented only and himself, and in that sense he represented you and me. Shelby Foote once stated that all war stories are anti-war. O'Donnell listens and reports; there are very few interjections of his own personality and agenda in this book. All war stories are anti-war in the sense that if they bring the reader into the conflict and allow the soldier to speak. There may be good wars but all deaths are a loss to each of us.

Below is the Publishers' Weekly review of this book. The reviewer misses the mark by stating that O'Donnell falls in love with the soldiers, who perform fantasy heroics. The reviewer believes that only a heroic enemy makes other's actions heroic. Surprisingly, the reviewer doesn't dispute O'Donnell's reports of the Jihadist's drug induced frenzied violence. But for the PW reviewer, the Marines are not heroes for facing down suicide assaults, ambushes, and booby traps conceived and perpetrated by crack-heads. Does the reviewer think that heroes are only made by taking action against rationale human beings?

From Publishers Weekly
Military historian O'Donnell (Into the Rising Sun) embedded himself in the 1st Platoon of Lima Company, 1st Marine Regiment. His book describes its training and deployment to Iraq in 2004, where the platoon patrolled, fended off guerrilla attacks and finally "fought bravely and died in the Iraq War's fiercest battle" in Fallujah. Most of the book is a detailed, blow-by-blow description of the brutal street fighting, during which nearly the entire unit became casualties. As the author portrays them, these Marines were heroes and warriors with only macho flaws, such as heavy drinking or practical joking, while their enemies are simply terrorists. Maintaining that our troops fight because they love America and their buddies, but their opponents fight because they are drug-addled, suicidal maniacs, the author forgets what every military buff knows: one cannot be a great warrior without a worthy opponent. Like many embedded reporters, O'Donnell appears to have fallen in love with his subjects, adding to the growing genre of worshipful, jingoistic battle narratives about Iraq. Though these Marines fought with great courage and the details of their battle make gripping reading, the author's uncritical cheerleading reduces their accomplishment to fantasy heroics.

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