Magazine article Foreign Affairs
Recent Books: Military, Scientific, and Technological: The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows/The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home from Iraq and Afghanistan/Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War
The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows BY BRIAN CASTNER. Doubleday, 2012, 240 pp. $25.95.
The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home From Iraq and Afghanistan BY MARGUERITE GUZMÁN BOUVARD. Prometheus Books, 2012, 250 pp. $18.00.
Soul Repair: Recovering From Moral Injury After War BY RITA NAKASHIMA BROCK AND GABRIELLA LETTINI. Beacon Press, 2012, 174 pp. $24.95.
Three short, sad books report on the effects of war on those who fight. They tell of individuals damaged physically, mentally, and morally by what they have experienced; the guilt they feel over fallen comrades whose deaths they were unable to mourn; families struggling to cope with the depression and desensitization of returning warriors; the apparent indifference and banal preoccupations of the broader society; and the public's failure to respect what veterans have seen and done in the service of their country. Other complaints are also familiar: the military's inadequate preparations for war and inability to grasp alien cultures or the motives of enemies and the lack of physical and mental health care offered to veterans on their return. Among veterans, these costs of war are reflected in widespread posttraumatic stress disorder (ptsd), alcohol abuse, divorce, and, all too often, suicide. These books rebuke those who wish to present war solely in noble and heroic terms. But they are not, nor do they try to be, balanced themselves: they do not tell the stories of those who have returned relatively unscathed.
Castner commanded an explosive ordnance disposal unit in Iraq. His is the most complete of the stories told here. The style is gripping, and the book is surprisingly informative about the history and practice of bomb disposal, but it is also chaotic, as he moves back and forth between his wartime experiences and his later struggles to cope with ptsd, which he refers to as his "Crazy." The "long walk" of the title is the one Castner had to take many times, donning a heavy Kevlar suit for a personal encounter with a bomb that robots and other arm's-length tools had proved unable to disarm. …