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Did the much-vaunted surge of American troops in Iraq work? Yes, said George W. Bush. A soldierly response differed: “I’ve had enough of this bullshit.”

So details Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post writer Finkel in this excellent study of soldiers under fire. In January 2007, Bush ordered a surge that involved flooding the Baghdad and other key locations with soldiers to quell anti-American partisan activity. In the field were troops who had seen time in Iraq before, had gone home and been sent back. Some were from a battalion stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., and they had the good fortune to be commanded by a smart West Pointer who had earned his Ranger parachute and had served in the first Gulf War and Afghanistan. His troops affectionately dubbed Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, “the Lost Kauz.” The sobriquet proved fitting, as Finkel chronicles, and though Kauzlarich did his best to prevent harm from befalling his charges, he could not stop the IEDs, suicide attacks and stray shots that inevitably followed their movements. The author writes with the you-are-there immediacy of Richard Tregaskis’s Guadalcanal Diary (1943), taking the reader into the field, where, against a $100 explosive device, a “$150,000 Humvee might as well have been constructed of lace.” Finkel also depicts the gruesome aftermath of such explosions: “All four limbs burned away, bony stumps visible. Superior portion of cranium burned away,” reads a battalion doctor’s death report. “No further exam possible due to degree of charring.” Aspects of the surge, the author writes, were merely rhetorical. Others were unquestionably successful, particularly the reduction in the number of attacks on Americans—successes to be chalked up to the bravery of the men and women under fire, and in no way, Finkel says, to anything happening in Washington. Says Kauz of one action that serves as an epigram to the entire enterprise, “It’s fucked up. But you did the right thing.”

A superb account of the burdens soldiers bear.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-374-16573-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2009


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