I don't generally like to buy books that I read (sorry to all the authors I know, if only one or two). I have put together a fairly extensive library card network, and can usually get the books that I can't get in my local libraries through the inter library loan service (the inter library loan service is a GREAT resource - be sure to ask your local librarian - I calculate that I have probably saved thousands of dollars on books that I've gotten to read, but have not had to buy).
But, I had some birthday money and could not resist buying Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft.
This was a pretty compelling book. It chronicles Dr. Kraft's 7 month tour of duty attending to the mental health needs of Sailors and Marines serving in Iraq.
There are some truly heartbreaking stories (along with some heartwarming stories). Not to give too much away, but about halfway through the book, Dr. Kraft talks about a 19 year old Marine she encounters who has gotten three Purple Hearts in two months. He is ashamed because he feels afraid. Dr. Kraft tells him (and this is the understatement of the century) that there is nothing normal about three Purple Hearts in two months.
It gets some poorer reviews on Amazon.com because it doesn't go into detail on how she treated combat trauma. I disagree somewhat with that assessment - if she got too deep into the techniques, etc, it would quickly become too difficult for the general reader.
What is somewhat interesting to me is that she doesn't seem to speculate too much on what is going to happen to her patients when they return to the US from being in the war (and to be fair to her, I'm sure that she spent time then doing that, that she just didn't mention in the book, and spends time doing that now, especially as the book points out that she is the Deputy Coordinator for the US Navy Combat Stress Control Program).
As I read this book, I kept coming back to a few themes which I've spent time writing about over the past several months.
It is all well and good to honor and talk about the service of these brave young men and women.
But I believe that to just talk about them, and to never connect their fate in Iraq to the current NATURE of this war does them a great disservice. And the current nature of the war is the idea that our soldiers are doing a good job for the most part, but the political reconciliation that is necessary by the Iraqi's is simply not happening in any significant way.
Until the Iraqi's decide that they want to reconcile, and stop killing each other in the name of sectarian strife, and the Iraqi government gets serious about doing the routine, mundane things that governments do (clean their streets of filth, ensure there is electrical power, water and security, etc), our brave men and women are simply patrolling the roads, towns and cities of Iraq in the middle of a civil war.
To say that we need to "win the war" or "not cutting and running" are mindless chants which no one ever really talks about what they SPECIFICALLY mean, and when in that context the war can be over. The war has to end doesn't it (that is a rhetorical question - to hear those who are called "pro-war" this is a "long war" which is virtually unending)?
Remember, this was supposed to be a "cake walk", and we were supposed to win and disengage very quickly. To now say that they couldn't have anticipated the war they are getting now gives me no faith about their understanding of history or the middle east. It is also a slick piece of 1984 (George Orwell) revisionist history.
If you don't believe me about the nature of this war, here are two articles by those who have been on the ground fighting this war (and in the first piece, two of these soldiers are now dead):
This is an article penned by 12 Army Captains:
For their opinions, they have been called traitors, cowards, defeatists, and the like. For a lot of people however, they just don't want to hear what these thinking, brave soldiers have to say. They would rather bury their heads in the sand and just wait for the Administration to tell them that we've won the war (or that it's time for the next war).
Don't hold your breath until that happens. I see blue skin in your future if you do.
In the mean time, while you are holding your breath, read Dr. Kraft's book.