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Book Review: The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

Even with the most gruesome and graphic depictions of war violence on film there is still a mental barrier between reality and fantasy. In his book The Good Soldiers, David Finkel brings the reader realistic depictions of the savageness of the modern day warfare and to some level the reader is given a glimpse of the dark state of mind that results from war. The Good Soldiers tells the story of the 2-16 Battalion from pre-deployment in early 2007 until they go home almost a year later. The 2-16 was part of the “surge” ordered by President Bush in 2007 to quell the mounting insurgency in Iraq. Finkel does not ignore the meta-political questions of the surge or the war in Iraq, however, the focus of the book is truly on the soldiers and their life.

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich is the leader of the Battalion and a large focus of the book as he tries to maintain a rah-rah attitude, while many of his underlings are coming to the realization that their efforts are not working and that their life is in constant danger. A poignant display of the overly optimistic attitudes that have plagued the Iraq War from the lowest authority to the highest authority of President Bush, is when LTC Kauzlarich is given an opportunity to brief General Petraeus. There was a heavy emphasis on strictly the positive news and not any negative news or views that may be considered negative or dissenting. Not to suggest that it was the time and place or even role for a dissenting view, however, somewhere along the chain of command reports have to reflect what’s happening on the ground. Finkel portrays an area of Baghdad that’s beyond help, while the command is solely focused on reporting successful operations.

The book’s acclaim comes from the insight it provides to the soldier’s life in Iraq. The depictions of the sewer stench, the overbearing dust and heat, and the randomness of deadly EFPs bring to life a living hell. The damage that these EFPs are capable of doing to young vibrant soldiers is gut wrenching. Finkel graphically describes how bodies are shredded, limbs are torn off, and how soldiers bleed out, all in a blink of a second. The toll this takes on the living soldiers is unimaginable, and Finkel does a wonderful job of addressing the unspoken injury of war, PTSD. Finally, PTSD is starting to be understood and accepted more, even in the macho driven armed forces, but not without some hesitation. The fine line between a visible physical injury and a mental injury is still a gap in a lot of people’s eyes. It’s obvious that there’s a lot of mixed feelings when Sergeant Schuman leaves for home with PTSD, and it’s apparent that he doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with it either. has spent a lot of time on the meta-political issues regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan War, however, it’s also important to recognize the day to day implementation of the war and the soldier’s perspectives.  Like another great book, In a Time of War by Bill Murphy Jr., The Good Soldiers shows the reality of modern day warfare and gives a glimpse into the lives of the modern day soldiers. Those stories and experiences are crucial to understanding the war in a broader context and crucial to empathizing with the soldier experience, which still too many citizens do not understand.