If there were ever the opposite of a “good war,” in the Studs Terkelian sense, Iraq is it. So the veterans interviewed by journalist Wood tell us.
Though early on she quotes the observation of war correspondent Evan Wright—who has actually been on the ground in Iraq—that the present generation of GIs is a cynical one that believes that “the Big Lie is as central to American governance as taxation,” Wood does not completely prepare the reader for the bitterness and despair that many of her subjects report. One soldier, believing that Iraqi civilians knew of an ambush against his unit—“People fucking knew”—recalls shooting a woman who was cowering behind a tree, apparently just to vent his anger. Other soldiers, incensed by suicide bombs, thirst for payback; all it takes is one explosion to turn soldiers who were “young and innocent and just new cherries” into grim avengers. Wood’s subjects report from all areas of the battle, though for whatever reason, many of them saw duty in “mortuary affairs” units. Though sometimes their accounts are lighthearted, as when Marines compete to use items from a word-of-the-day calendar “in a sentence to the highest-ranking officer [they] could get to,” most are somber tales of friends lost and innocents dead, full of searching questions about the meaning of it all. Several voice the view that the U.S. is in Iraq for the oil, and that the Iraqi insurgence is completely understandable: “If I was held oppressed by the white infidel invader,” says one soldier, “I would be out on the street with every one of them.” Says another, “Five good American kids just died. What the fuck was this for? I hope Bush is happy.”
Wood is no Studs Terkel, and her book is less a structured oral history than a collection of anecdotes. Still, her subjects offer important testimony on a bad scene that promises only to get worse.