While discussing his recently released book, The Good Soldiers, David Finkel recounted personal stories of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and emphasized the need for individuals to think about the full spectrum of policy when reading about the effects of war. Finkel's book follows infantry soldiers of the 2-16 Army battalion that were part of the U.S. military strategy in Iraq known as "the surge" that began in early 2007. As Finkel explained, the book was not written as a polemic but as a ground-level account of what happened to one group of soldiers who went to Iraq and about those who came home and those who did not.
The Middle East Program and International Security Studies of the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted the book discussion with Finkel, editor and writer at the Washington Post and former Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, on February 1, 2010; Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program, moderated the event.
Finkel described the 2-16 battalion based out of Fort Riley, Kansas as "fairly naïve and optimistic" when they first arrived in Baghdad and who were, of course, changed after their 14-month deployment. With an average age of 19, the infantry battalion was tasked with carrying out a counterinsurgency strategy in eastern Baghdad that included protecting the local population and gathering intelligence. Throughout his talk, Finkel detailed several poignant stories about these young soldiers. He told accounts of those who died and of those who were wounded because of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and would go on to receive Purple Hearts for their dedicated service. He also described those who witnessed the devastating effects of EFPs and tried to help their fellow soldiers, those whose wounds were not physical or "deep" enough for a Purple Heart yet suffered greatly nonetheless.
Each chapter in Finkel's book begins with a quote from President George W. Bush, not in an attempt to disparage the president or the war effort but to highlight the difference between what the war was to the president and, as an extension, to policymakers in Washington, and what the war was to soldiers in Baghdad. In acknowledging this disconnect, Finkel aimed to draw attention not just to the soldiers in this battalion but to write about the character of men in war.
Finkel stressed that not everyone died and not everyone was wounded in the battalion, but the cumulative effect of this war on everyone was "severe, serious and ongoing." While this particular battalion did not have the best or the worst of it in Iraq, Finkel affirmed, "they tried hard, did well and came back broken." He underscored the universal bitterness and exhaustion of these soldiers and how the war continues inside for them, Purple Heart or not. In closing, Finkel urged individuals to consider the far-reaching effects of headlines and policies related to war.
Drafted by Kendra Heideman on behalf of the Middle East Program