Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist and former Marine Corps infantry officer Chivers (The Gun, 2010, etc.) offers a chilling account of failed American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq through the searing experiences of six fighters.
After 9/11, the author risked his personal safety to experience combat up close as a journalist in Afghanistan and Iraq, making excellent use of the observational powers he honed as a Marine during the earlier Persian Gulf War. Chivers ably relates the details of the U.S. military incursions into those two countries based on the thinking of the six combatants featured in the narrative. Each of the men is at the center of at least two chapters out of 13, including the epilogue. By returning to individual sagas throughout the book, the author captures not only isolated moments, but also evolving thoughts as U.S. military and civilian commanders make countless mistakes in their goals and their tactics. One of the six main characters is dead; the other five suffered physical and/or psychological injuries during their service. Now no longer in combat, the protagonists were candid with Chivers about the worth of their military missions. Sometimes bitterness emerged, but more often puzzlement, as the combatants tried to work through why they and their fellow troops were fighting elusive enemies for no clear purpose. At the beginning of each chapter, the author, who shatters much conventional wisdom about the conflicts, provides a transitional summary of shifting U.S. priorities between fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or sometimes both at once. A central dilemma for noncombatant policymakers has been deciding whether to withdraw, thus creating geographical regions for the terrorists to consolidate, or remain, thus encouraging new terrorist recruits to enlist against the hated Americans.
Given his background, Chivers certainly did not set out to write a book emphasizing the foolishness of American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that is the story that emerged from his painstaking, courageous reporting, and readers will be thankful for his work.