The Good Soldiers
By David Finkel
304 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
When President George W. Bush ordered the 2007 surge that stepped up the war in Iraq, the evening news gave us statistics (soldiers deployed, suicide bombs detonated) and hopeful or pessimistic reports on the rise and ebb of violence. By contrast, David Finkel's The Good Soldiers could hardly be more specific, more up close and personal. In language that often suggests the incantatory rhythms of Tim O'Brien's fiction, Finkel focuses on one battalion, the 2-16, also known as the Rangers. Their leader, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, cares deeply about the men under his command. His personal mantra is "It's all good," which he keeps repeating even after things have begun to go very badly indeed. Finkel, a journalist whose work for The Washington Post earned him a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story that has mostly been missing from the front pages: the touching camaraderie of the men, the shock of a soldier's first exposure to the true horror of battle and to the first loss of a friend, the grief of the families of injured men sent back home, and the awfulness of the deaths that these young soldiers—boys, really—are facing in the Middle East. Though I can't help wishing Finkel had probed into the origins and nature of this particular conflict (why exactly are we fighting? who exactly are those bad guys planting bombs to drive us from their country?), his book is a necessary and powerful reminder that wars are declared by politicians far from the killing fields; the idealistic soldiers and innocent civilians are the ones, on the ground, suffering and dying.
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