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Review: In a Time of War by Bill Murphy Jr.

Though this blog is named “Political Books”, we like to use a very broad definition of politics.  After all, essentially everything is related to politics in some semblance.  In a Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point’s Class of 2002 would be best categorized as a human interest story first and a political book second.  However, no matter how one decides to categorize In a Time of War, it is outstanding.

Murphy follows the stories of a selected few of West Point’s Class of 2002.  The first class to graduate “in a time of war” (George Bush’s words) after 9/11.  The book gives an insight on the tradition, the way of life, the punishing schedule, the heavy demands and the honor that is part of being a West Point Officer to-be.  Murphy continues to follow the members of the class after they graduate and head into their active duty, at this point the story leaves the idealism of West Point and enters the grittiness of war.  It also illustrates the Officer’s accelerated transformation from a group of idealistic, optimistic youth to disillusioned adults.

It’s tragic and inspirational at the same time but most importantly it highlights just how different of a life one leads in the military than as a civilian.  Quickly they go from young kids to officers leading men in war.  This is illustrated in their personal life also as many of them marry relatively young and have children young.  In many respects the military life is a culture of its own, yet by the end of their five mandatory years of service most of the subjects wanted to leave the military and join civilian life.  This is a problem for the Army, keeping experienced officers.

Though the underlying context of the book is political, namely the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the subjects of the book do their duty and do it well without much expression of political ideology.  Nor does the author paint the stories in a manner that may strike the reader as partisan.  At many points throughout the book the stories could have been used to expound on a viewpoint, thankfully Murphy Jr. has chosen to just relate the soldiers’ stories.

In a Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point’s Class of 2002 is almost unbearable to put down once started.  The book hops from subject to subject and keeps the reader wondering what their plight will be.  I cannot think of a better book to recommend to people interested in a soldier’s life during war and it should be required reading for all young men and women trying to decide if the military is for them.