Saturday, March 27, 2010

Martha Raddatz's The Long Road Home

Martha Raddatz's The Long Road Home (2008) is a heartbreaking and anger-inducing book.  It is about the attack on U.S. troops in Sadr City on April 4, 2004 as well as its effects on the families involved back in the United States.  The overall story is familiar to anyone who followed the worst parts of what we might call the denial period (or perhaps "Mission Accomplished" period) of the invasion.  The troops viewed Iraq largely as a humanitarian mission, and their civilian superiors were careful to cultivate that.  But suddenly they were massively fired upon, and the results were tragic.

Probably the most egregious example is the lack of tanks or armored Humvees.  General Peter Chiarelli is confronted by a wounded soldier wanting to know why they didn't have tanks--Chiarelli knew that he had begged for them (and had been rebuked for publicly saying hundreds of thousands of troops would be necessary), but that the Pentagon "had thought the war was winding down; sending all the First Cavalry Division's tanks, they reasoned, would give the wrong message to the Iraqis--the message that the Americans were there as occupiers" (p. 287).  Of course, we were there as occupiers even if we wanted to pretend otherwise.  But that denial meant many soldiers went out to fight in the equivalent of pickup trucks, and were easy targets for snipers.  They also had no idea of the Mahdi Army's tactics, which included marching with children in the front as shields--they did not know how to effectively respond.

That denial also meant the aid station was overwhelmed: "The aid station wasn't set up for surgery--it lacked the equipment and had no blood supply, which made even removing a bullet a perilous procedure" (p. 162).  The scenes of carnage and death are moving, and frustrating.

The book really focuses on the people, leaving judgment to the reader, though I think it is very hard to write about this and not feel indignation.  As it happens, Cindy Sheehan's son was killed that day, and so you can see how this sort of event could radically transform someone.  Casey Sheehan was in the back of one of those unarmored trucks and had been in battle only a few minutes when he was shot and killed instantly.  It is no pleasant thing to read about exactly how families are notified.

It is bad enough to have an invasion and occupation, yet even worse when it's done ineptly, which just means more people die.  The road home is indeed long.


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