is a non-romance book. Lots of brothers-in-arms affection, but no romance. [Unless you are wearing slash goggles, like apparently many people are. Go google "Brad Colbert/Nate Fick", I'll wait. Personally I don't really see it, despite the constant sexual references in the book and miniseries, but the casting of the HBO miniseries probably has a lot to do with the GK slash that's out there.]
is the story of the Marines' First Reconnaissance Battalion and their participation in the beginning of the second Gulf War. Evan Wright, a journalist with Rolling Stone
, was embedded with the Second Platoon as they careened around Iraq, from Kuwait to Nasiriyah to Baghdad to Baqubah, basically riding head first into ambushes set up by the Iraqi Republican Guard and jihadists. The narrative traces the path of the platoon, while trying to capture the ethos of the Marines and the tension of their situation.
Recon Marines are, readers are told, the creme de la creme of Marines: trained to the nth degree with Jump School, Mountain School, Dive School, SERE, etc., they generally work in small groups away from their officers, doing reconnaissance and other less obvious, flashy things. But in the invasion of Iraq, they were clumped together with their commanders (many of whom had never been in the field) and used to test a new doctrine of maneuver warfare in a new type of war -- the preemptive war. And instead of doing recon, they were sent in a 70 vehicle caravan with only light armor (some vehicles with none) to run into ambushes and draw out the enemy. Under-equipped and in the dark about their mission, the Marines managed to follow their commanders' orders, winding from hamlets in the desert to the urban landscapes between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Wright introduced each Marine by age, rank, and origin, which struck me as a very journalistic thing to do, although a little odd in a book. *shrug* Since he spent the majority of his time in a Humvee with several troops, those guys got most of his attention and page space, but he seems to have become acquainted with most of the platoon. And he shared the good and the bad about them: Person's Ripped Fueled diatribes about the "retards" making this invasion necessary; Trombley's indifference to consequences of violence that made him good at his job; Doc Bryan's paradoxical concern about human life and the ease with which he's able to take away human life when he shoulders his rifle; Fick's balancing of his concern for his men with the orders from above to send them into sometimes unnecessary and unwarranted danger; and Colbert's isolation in the middle of the men he lead and tended.
In some ways, it feels like Wright romanticized the entire FRM ethos to me (YMMV). The glorification of the uber-macho, ultra-testoteroned world view seems problematic, especially when writing about the Marine Corp as an institution that channeled and legitimated behavior that would otherwise get men jailed or killed in the civilian world. On the other hand, their joint experiences have made some of the men friends for life and created a feeling of brotherhood that some of them had never experienced in their civilian lives.
Of course, he was also honest about the complete clusterfuck that the invasion was for this group of men. Strategically, logistically, politically and socially. For example, lacking the batteries to use the night gear for driving, they were often driving nearly blind in the dark. Instead of setting up personnel in the south, they hit and rolled on, leaving power vacuums that would be filled by extremists and foreign jihadis. The utter disassociation of practicality from their reality (grooming standards being emphasized in the middle of an invasion?) was kind of mind-boggling.
Wright finished the book convinced that this preemptive war was necessary, and expressed his anger and frustration with the American public for no longer supporting the war and the men and women fighting in Iraq, for essentially wasting a generation of American youth. TBH, that kind of pissed me off even as I understood his perspective. Frankly, I have a hard time believing that the American public would have had a 60% approval rating of the war at the time of the invasion if they had known that the WMD reports were fabricated, and that Iraq would become a quagmire that will absorb trillions of their tax dollars in coming decades. If he wants to be pissed off, perhaps his anger should be directed at Bush, Cheney, et al., who began the waste in the first place.
The larger issues alluded to in the book were not new information for me, but it was fascinating (if enraging and blood pressure-raising) to read this account. I probably wouldn't go out looking for more written by Wright, but I'm going to borrow The Biochemist's copy of One Bullet Away
, the memoir written by one of the Marines appearing in GK. And I'll re-read Baghdad Burning.
Ironically, the book ends with a scene in which some of the Marines are marveling about the length of World War II, relieved by the brevity of their mission in Iraq, since "Mission Accomplished!" had already been declared. As The Biochemist emailed to me last month when I wrote that I was reading GK, "Unhappy 7th Anniversary, First Recon Marines and Iraq." Bet you didn't think you'd be doing another tour there again, did you?
As one Marine is quoted, "[I]t doesn't matter if you oppose or support war. The machine goes on."
Other random thoughts:
- tension between being good officer/soldier and being good human being (wonder if Fick's book addresses)
- perhaps could use some proofing/editing -- one grunt's name changes in the afterword (oops!); also, there is no Louden County, Virginia, just Loudoun County
- who adapted the screenplay for the miniseries? did an awesome job
- cracked up by insistence that one grunt couldn't be gay because he was married...because no gay man has ever had a beard...and of course, no badass recon Marine could possibly be gay