I was looking for something else when I popped into the Barnes and Noble on Merrimack Street last week, but on my way out, five minutes to closing, I noticed a stack of hardcovers on the discount table near the door with a picture of some young folks with short haircuts and garrison caps on the cover.
Curious, I took a closer look and noticed that the book, In a Time of War, by Bill Murphy, Jr. ($4.99 or $5.99, I can't remember but I think there are still copies available), was a profile of the West Point Class of 2002 -- their time at the Academy, their training as second lieutenants, and, of course, their repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Naturally, I couldn't say no -- I had read about this class in David Lipsky's Absolutely American, I have a borderline obsession with all things GWOT, and I felt a little bit of a connection because the book's subjects were, by and large, born in the same year I was.
Anyway, back to the book -- it is amazing and I strongly recommend you read it. For a while, I've been clamoring for more Iraq books that *just* tell the stories of the soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors (yes, I said sailors -- there are 10,000 more of them in Iraq than you might think, doing all kinds of jobs on land!) There was an initial glut of invasion books by embedded reporters, there were a few "I am awesome"-style memoirs written by Captains who got out after five years and a confirmed kill or two, and there are plenty of "George Bush sucks and everything is going down the drain" books to have come out recently.
However, there are comparatively few books that chronicle the lives of the people involved in a relatively neutral, non-judgemental way.
And that's why I love Bill Murphy's book so much. It will definitely make you think, probably make you laugh, and possibly make you cry when you read about the human tragedies involved for the young widows, orphans, and grieving parents that you get to know throughout the course of the book's 25 chapters.
The stories of the soldiers' lives are well-woven together from the training to the deployments, and Murphy (a disciple of Bob Woodward, with whom he sort of co-wrote 'State of Denial') is good at painting the picture without editorializing too much. And you can't argue that no matter what you think of war, it is in all cases a terrible tragedy for the human lives it leaves in its wake -- military and civilian.
Also, speaking of GWOT, thanks to Shannon for sending the link below about the way the girls who were victimized by the battery acid attack in Afghanistan are responding. Definitely a strong piece here by Dexter Filkins (The Forever War and countless NY Times articles) and a good reminder of what's at stake in Afghanistan.