Washington Post writer Finkel delivers one of the most morally responsible works of journalism to emerge from the post-9/11 era.
To call this moving rendering of the costs of war a continuation of the author’s first book, The Good Soldiers (2009), would be misleading. While Finkel does focus on the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion following their actions in Iraq, the breadth and depth of his portraits of the men and women scarred by the 21st century’s conflicts are startling. In a series of interconnected stories, Finkel follows a handful of soldiers and their spouses through the painful, sometimes-fatal process of reintegration into American society. The author gives a cleareyed, frightening portrayal of precisely what it is like to suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and what it is like to have the specter of suicide whispering into your ear every day. Finkel’s emotional touchstone is Sgt. Adam Schumann, a genuine American hero who returned from Iraq without a physical scratch on him—but whose three tours of duty may have broken him for good. Schumann’s condition, compounded by financial stress, drove a deep wedge between the wounded soldier and his wife, who has struggled to understand why her husband returned a changed man. Finkel also follows the widow of a soldier Schumann tried to save, an American Samoan vet whose TBI threatens to derail his life, and a suicidal comrade unable to overcome his condition, among others. Fighting on the front lines of this conflict are a compassionate case worker, a U.S. Army general who makes it his last mission to halt the waves of suicides, and the director of a transition center whose war should have ended long ago. The truly astonishing aspect of Finkel’s work is that he remains completely absent from his reportage; he is still embedded.
A real war story with a jarring but critical message for the American people.