A former U.S. State Department official who spent seven consecutive war years in Iraq and Afghanistan debuts with a damning memoir about our lies, failures, and horrors in the region.
Weston’s title refers to the moment when people with severe facial injuries first look at themselves in the mirror. He believes the rest of us need to take a look, as well. This is no story told by someone residing safely in academia or in a Washington, D.C., office. The author, who worked for both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, was assigned to the Marines for much of his duty, and he had extensive experience with gunfire, explosive devices, and terrible accidents. On one occasion—an event that haunts him throughout this deeply disturbing text—his actions led, indirectly, to the deaths of 31 service members, whose helicopter crashed on the way to secure polling locations for the 2005 Iraqi elections—a mission the author had urged. Weston revisits this moment continually, his guilt emerging in painful, self-recriminating sentences. Later, back in the United States, he endeavored to visit all of their graves and to meet some family members. The author spares no one. Bush and Cheney, he says, lied—even joked—about weapons of mass destruction; politicians from both major parties supported the troops in rhetorical but not meaningful ways. In several places, Weston provides lists of fallen warriors, and readers will be struck by the youth of those killed in action: many were teenagers, most others in their 20s. And for what? he asks repeatedly. The author declares that on both fronts—Iraq and Afghanistan—we failed to accomplish much that’s meaningful, and in Iraq, we sowed the seeds of al-Qaida, the Islamic State group, and a most horrific civil war. Weston also focuses sharply on the wounded and disfigured and on the local people, who have suffered unspeakably.
Vivid pages soaked with blood, reverberating with cries of pain, loss, and regret.