Scarifying memoir by Medal of Honor winner Meyer, proving that war is indeed hell—and the bureaucracy of war more hellish still.
This cathartic, heartfelt account is not really a work of literature. Few readers would put it in the same class as similar memoirs by, say, Caesar or Ulysses S. Grant or even Anthony Swofford, and even the participation of military journalist West (The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan, 2011, etc.) doesn’t keep the narrative from falling into pits of cliché and sentimentality. Earnest clumsiness aside, this is a book readers will want to study closely if they plan to go to war anytime soon, not least because of its helpful hints—e.g., in a firefight, watch your flank and pay attention to your officers, and you might just stay alive. A son of rural Kentucky and a highly trained sniper, Meyer gives a close reading of the tough and tenacious farming people he was put up against in Afghanistan: “It takes plain stubbornness to hack a living out of that flinty earth. If the villagers supported the insurgents, we were in for a long war.” The villagers indeed supported the insurgents—the Taliban and their allies—in the sliver of mountain-ringed valley, hard against the border of Pakistan, into which Meyer and his fellow Marines were inserted. There they fought what has come to be known as the Battle of Ganjigal, where Meyer earned his medal even in the face of inept decisions higher up. As he writes, an investigation of various intelligence and tactical failures found “some shortcomings and ‘poor battle management,’ ” which he likens to saying that Lincoln was shot because someone left a door at the Ford Theatre unlocked.
Combat memoirs don’t get any more personal, and Meyer deserves honors for his honesty here just as much as for his experiences in the field.