Effects of Iraq war shown in soldiers’ stories

Despite the tragedy, the media coverage of the event was matter-of-fact and unemotional. No names were given, which in a way dehumanized the losses.

However, in a new book, The Good Soldiers, David Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer with The Washington Post, crafts a masterful, intimate portrait of the effects of war on those who served in Iraq during the surge.

Finkel embedded himself in the Army’s 2-16 Battalion for eight months as the unit served in one of the most violent areas of Baghdad during the troop surge of 2007-08. To understand the effects on the soldiers and to accurately document it, Finkel ate meals with them, lived with them on a forward operating base and joined them five to six days a week on patrol.

The sense of dedication to understanding what these soldiers experienced and how they dealt with war is brilliantly expressed in the book. Finkel’s superb storytelling abilities put the reader in the middle of the action, providing an unvarnished account of the brutal, ugly ramifications of war.

Finkel’s book is not a polemic. It neither glorifies war nor argues against it; it’s simply an honest account. But in that honesty, in the stories of the young soldiers wounded and lives disrupted, a tale emerges of the ultimate costs of war on the individual and society, a story that will deeply affect everyone who reads it.

On Sept. 22, 2007, Spc. Joshua Reeves was hit and critically injured. Medics worked frantically to stop the bleeding and tried to revive the wounded solider.

“It was 5:25 p.m. now,” Finkel writes, “thirty minutes since the explosion, sixteen minutes since the doctors had begun their work, and 9:25 a.m. in an American hospital where a new mother was expecting a phone call.”

Reeves’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child that morning and awaited a call from him. That call never came. Reeves, who was 26 years old, died that day from his injuries.

In war, the wounds inflicted upon those who serve are not all equal: The wounds suffered by Joshua Reeves were visible, but others are afflicted by injuries that are not physically apparent.

Adam Schumann was one of the finest soldiers in the 2-16. Schumann completed three tours in Iraq, serving 34 months there, and demonstrated tremendous acts of bravery during that time. But after 34 months, the effects of war became too much.

Schumann was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that studies show may affect as many as 20 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq. Over and over, Schumann would see “his first kill sinking into a mud puddle, looking at him as he sank.” The horrible images of death plagued him, driving him to thoughts of suicide.

“I have lost all hope,” Schumann wrote in his diary on the last day he was in Iraq. “Day by day my misery grows like a storm waiting to swallow me whole … what have I done?”

In the 2-16 Battalion, some soldiers were physically wounded; others were affected by PTSD; but almost all were demoralized after serving 15 months in Iraq.

Ralph Kauzlarich, the leader of the 2-16, is portrayed in the book as an optimist: a man who walks around saying, “It’s all good,” even when clearly isn’t.

Kauzlarich relished the chance to go to Baghdad and be part of something important. But as time dragged on, the optimistic hue that characterized Kauzlarich faded.

After only a few months, Kauzlarich’s enthusiasm was blunted. These are the most ungrateful people, Kauzlarich said to Brent Cummings, the unit’s second-ranking officer. By the end, Kauzlarich threatened to bomb the sewers the Americans built if the local leaders could not quell the violence. Let them live in their own filth, he said.

War is not pretty; it is not neat. It affects those who serve and those around them. Finkel’s book shines a light on the complex nature of this relationship: the effects on soldiers and their families. His dedication to his subject matter and narrative abilities make this book one of the definitive works on the tragedies of the Iraq war.