Neither inflating nor decrying the sacrifice of soldiers, this book moves beyond the simple reporting of one man’s experiences of active service and its aftermath into an exploration of how experiencing extreme situations can leave anyone struggling to live a normal life.
The narrative is based on Bryan Wood’s combat experience in Afghanistan and return to civilian life. However – while there are tales of fire fights, tense stand-offs, and US policies – this is neither a war story nor a history; the greatest part of the action takes place in Wood’s head.
The book is written in two styles: a series of diary entries set in Afghanistan during a few months of 2003, and a more traditional memoir describing Wood’s return to the USA and attempts to find a place after his discharge.
Both sections are written in a clipped prose part way between history and fiction which gives both the feel of military thought and helps the reader share Wood’s feelings of separation and powerlessness. There are definite and well handled differences between the sections though: the diary is presented as a single linear document without commentary, whereas the rest of the book hints at events to come or returns to events past; this very neatly creates an impression that the events in Afghanistan are merely examples of issues both Wood and others faced, whereas the events following his return are at their core one deeply personal issue.
Although a strong thread of dislike at how civilians simplify active service, whether as a righteous crusade or an unnecessary action, is present Wood is equally honest about his own inappropriate attitudes: his disdain for those who talk without experience exposes the pretentious but also drives away those who seek to help.
Whatever your view on the morality of the US presence in Afghanistan or war in general this book raises questions about how we deal with disagreement, and how often our issue comes not from a flaw in the people on the other side of the perimeter or the office, but from grabbing and holding close the power we can for fear that the alternative is worse.
I found this book thought-provoking. I recommend it to anyone seeking a better understanding of the human cost of bearing arms for a modern society.
I received a free copy of this book.