Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: This Man's Army

A review of This Man’s Army: A Soldier’s Story From the Front Lines Of the War On Terrorism, by Andrew Exum.

The author, a gung-ho sort of all-American boy, went through ROTC at Penn State, then through Ranger School. After 9/11, he was deployed with the 10th Mountain Division into Afghanistan, where his men patrolled the Shah-i-Kot Valley and ferreted out al-Quaeda dug in there (a mission dubbed Operation Anaconda).

This brief memoir is perhaps a little light on the military side (9/11 does not occur until page 70, Exum's platoon leaves Kuwait and lands in Bagram on page 120, and he's back home by page 200). However, the strength of this book is not in its descriptions of combat. Instead, it's a book that, perhaps more than most "country boy goes to war" stories, reveals not so much what it's like to be in war as what it's like to be transformed by war.

Exum, a deep, educated, and introspective writer, muses thoughtfully on the dedication to serve; his need to deliberately put God out of his mind while on patrol and his disdain for those who try to graft war and Christianity; what it means to kill in combat; and the bonds between soldiers formed by combat. The book is an excellent testament to how, even when war doesn't destroy or maim a man, it leaves indelible marks on him. "After the shooting stops, how does the soldier settle back into society and modern civilization?" he asks at the end of the book, and then says, "I'm still looking for the answer."

This book is out of print, which is a shame, because out of the massive glut of Iraq and Afghan memoirs, this one stands out as a much-needed philosophical take on war in modern society.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
Afghanistan war: 1
General warfare: 2

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