I graduated from college in June, 1968. This was a few months after the Tet Offensive. The United States still had a draft and I was caught in it. I received my draft notice in September and I was ordered to report in November. If I went the draft - two year route it was almost guaranteed that I would end up as a grunt in Vietnam so I went down to the local recruiting office and enlisted for Army Intelligence. I gave up another year of my life to possibly save it. I never saw Vietnam or combat. I served with other college graduates on the frontiers of freedom in downtown Munich, Germany. Most of us opposed the war and opposed being in the Army. We might not have been in or near combat but we had a relationship I had not experienced before and have not experienced since.
Fast forward forty years and some things have changed but others are the same. There is no draft but there is a futile war managed by men who don't know what they are doing. The situation on the ground in Iraq is the subject of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher. Kathrine Tomlinson of California Literary Review tries to compare Gallagher's book to other war literature - she misses the point. Ms Tomlinson has never been in the military or close to war and doesn't understand that this is not a book about war but a book about soldier's relationships in war. It's about what they refer to in the military as esprit de corps. It's about those personal relationships - looking out for others in your unit regardless of politics because of the shared "suck".
So who is Matt Gallagher?
I was born into a class, in a time, to a people, in a place where someone else's sons and daughters served in the armed forces. While I wasn't a politician's boy or a spurner of old money like in the fables, a child of two lawyers still qualified as a Fortunate Son in most parts of the world. I was raised in that curious subculture of Americana enslaved to emo music, new friend requests on Facebook, and lots and lots of Internet porn-part of the generation that the "An Army of One" slogan supposedly appealed to, due to our obsession with all things self. I didn't come from the breadbasket of rural America or the urban ghettos like most of my men, and I didn't seek out the military for glory or for country. I came from the West Coast suburbs, modern white collar contentment at its most gnarled and escapist, and happened to read too many damn books about soldiers.
While Gallagher was from a different world he easily became one with his men - that is esprit de corps or shared "suck" at work. One of the things they shared was a disdain for incompetent field officers and civilians. You can appreciate that if you have been in the military but even if you haven't you have probably had experience with incompetent middle mangers in the civilian world.
In December, 2007 Gallagher and his platoon, The Gravediggers, found themselves NE of Baghdad in Saba al-Bor doing counterinsurgency as part of "the surge".
Just another day in the Suck. Just another day of counterinsurgency tedium, solving a nonconventional, nation-building, political problem with a conventional military used to nation destroying that sometimes forgot it was trying to be nonconventional. Just another day of our dismount teams walking with me between creeping Strykers, winding through the back alleys and alley backs of Saba al-Bor. Just another day of talking to the locals and listening to their multitude of gripes, bitches, and complaints. Just another day of "mistah, mistah, gimme--"
"Please, sir, I want some more."
Gallagher gives is a first hand account of the nuts and bolts of the counterinsurgency effort during the "surge". He does very little editorializing and I will leave it up to you to decide the wisdom and effectiveness of the policy.
More important for me was not the war itself but the relationship of men thrown together 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an alien and hostile place far from home.
The majority of Americans have no idea what war is all about. I recommend Kaboom because it may well help in a small way facilitate that understanding. It's also a good read as Matt Gallagher also has a pretty good way with words and adds some humor to what should be a humorless situation.
Cross posted at The Moderate Voice
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for this review.