Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Nor Such Battles for the Strong: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Nor Such Battles for the Strong: Books

Article excerpt

The architects of the Iraq misadventure should be made to read this book, avers James T. Crouse.

Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community

By Kenneth T. MacLeish

Princeton University Press

280pp, Pounds 19.95

ISBN 9780691152745 and 9781400846290 (e-book)

Published 13 March 2013

This is a difficult book. It is full of details, technical terms, military lingo and medical jargon. Its prose doesn't flow. But the real difficulty lies in its substance: the narratives of the horrors of combat are tough enough, but the descriptions of the unavoidable annoyances, anguish and the alterations to body, mind and family - to life - are the hardest to take. Why? Because Kenneth MacLeish shows us that there isn't much that can be done to return these men and women to who they were before their country sent them to war.

This is, therefore, a must-read for anyone whose country sent its people off to fight the unnecessary second war in Iraq. Given its universality, a better title would have been War in the 21st Century and its Personal Costs. Its meaning transcends Fort Hood and the US Army. These could be the stories of almost any soldier from any nation that went to war in Iraq.

The prologue introduces us to a veteran named Dime and sets the sombre tone. Dime survived two improvised explosive device strikes, and was the only survivor of the second one, trapped in his burning tank for four hours. His third IED experience lifted the entire 60-ton tank in front of him off the ground, killing his best friend, whose body, he recounts, was just "gone".

Later in the book, MacLeish describes soldiers trying to rescue their buddies from another burning vehicle: not to save lives, but to recover something that could be put in a casket. In the process, a soldier's hand is sliced open, not by a piece of the vehicle, but by the exposed spinal column of a fellow soldier. There are other accounts from soldiers who have seen a friend not just killed but literally destroyed: "transformed from a person into ... matter".

Grotesque in-your-face horror, certainly, but that is just the beginning. MacLeish details the terrible experience that is merely living the life of a soldier in Iraq. Heat, sweat, cold food, no running water, and the torture of wearing body armour, the weight of which, with other equipment, is energy sapping and leaves permanent physical discomfort that is almost impossible to treat. …

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