Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bill Murphy, Jr. -- In a Time of War

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.


Nick said...


Ever read Michael Herr's book Dispatches? It's about the Vietnam war, but it really focuses on the personal experiences of the soldiers.

The New Englander said...


Hadn't heard of it...I'll look for it online though...the "personal experience" books can't be beat, and hopefully more are forthcoming on both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anytime someone ever asks how they can "support the troops" in a way that doesn't involve yellow ribbons and bumper stickers, I always have the same answer -- either donate to a charity that helps us win hearts and minds (Gary Sinise's Operation Iraqi Children, for example), donate to a Veterans' Group (i.e. Pete Hegseth's Vets for Freedom), or, maybe even better yet, ASK an ACTUAL soldier returning from one of the theaters how he or she feels about the experience, and just LISTEN without letting your own politics get in the way..

chances are, unless you're a bartender living near Fort Bragg, you don't have an endless supply of recently-returning vets to in a way I think the next best thing is to read "Army of Dude"-style blogs, Michael Yon or Bing West-type books, or straight up 'in-their-own-voices' type of stuff, like the Michael Herr book you just cited.