Sometimes-harrowing memoir of time spent on the battleground in Iraq and its psychic consequences.
Most of the literature of the Iraq and Afghanistan misadventures has come from enlisted personnel, who bear the lion’s share of the fight. This memoir is unusual in that it comes from a high-ranking officer, just two grades down from general, deployed in the field in the dreadful year of 2005. It also comes from an officer who, since he was attached to an Iraqi unit as an adviser, did not have to observe all the niceties of war. Edmonds participated in numerous interrogation sessions, and the longer he did so, he writes, “the less certain and more conflicted I became about the right and wrong of everything.” The lessons he learned—some of which he imparts here—about how to grill a prisoner effectively are downright chilling. He recounts, for example, an Iraqi officer, late of Saddam Hussein’s army, telling him that the key is to be alternately frightening and friendly: “Going from comfort to terror to comfort, then terror, over and over again; soon even the strongest will give in.” Adding to his alienation was a girlfriend back home who wasn’t providing all the moral support she might. Adrift without an anchor and increasingly unsold on the mission—as he writes, “I hate it when Iraqis ask me to account for the shit that other Americans do”—Edmonds sank into the depression and emotional maelstrom of PTSD. Though he survived combat, the author leaves readers with the certainty that he will never again be who he once was. The narrative is a blend of rhetorical questions, staccato dialogue, and plaintive observations. Edmonds doesn’t reach the depth attained in recent books by Ben Fountain, Phil Klay, or Michael Pitre, but he does provide a useful adjunct to the work on PTSD done by Jonathan Shay and other writers and analysts.
War is hell, and hell is other people. In this serviceable account, Edmonds assures us that both adages are true.