A book examines a 20th-century American military campaign and one man who endured it.
In this volume, Hook (Never Subdued II, 2015, etc.) unfolds dual narratives operating on very different scales. The larger, broader one explores modern military history: specifically the course of Operation Just Cause, President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 invasion of Panama to depose Gen. Manuel Noriega. The author grounds this expansive tale in a vast amount of painstaking research into primary documents and contemporaneous reporting, all of it shaped and marshaled with a great deal of dramatic efficiency and storytelling brio. Although the book’s primary focus is clearly on the personal level, its look at Operation Just Cause is absolutely first-rate military history, filled with memorable portraits like that of commanding Gen. Maxwell Thurman, “a bachelor who was said to be married to his profession.” His “reputation often preceded him to new duty stations, similarly to what happened to Gen. George Patton during World War II,” Hook writes in a typical passage. “Much like Patton’s reputation, Thurman’s similar reputation undoubtedly helped him to produce results.” Alongside this vast tapestry is the work’s heart, the story of one soldier: Spc. E-4 Bruce Beard, who received his marine certificate as an engineman on Sept. 23, 1987, and enlisted in the Army just five weeks before the U.S. Senate passed its resolution calling on Noriega to step down. Beard arrived in Panama on Sept. 11, 1989, in what Hook diplomatically describes as “a chaotic situation.” In that widespread disorder, Beard fell into drug use, drew a bad conduct discharge, and found himself cast adrift in civilian life with PTSD and no governmental services to help him. In this entirely gripping account, Hook goes into Beard’s case in great detail, tracing the bureaucratic ignorance among Operation Just Cause officers as to how serious drug use could be (Hook points out that only Vietnam veterans knew the problem firsthand). The blending of the two threads produces an arresting picture of a military episode most Americans have forgotten.
A sweeping and heartbreaking story of modern war and its personal costs.