Saturday, October 30, 2010
The Junior Officers Reading Club Killing Time and Fighting Wars by Patrick Hennessey.
Patrick Hennessey describes his infantry and officer training in Britain. Then he describes his tour of duty, first as an honor guard for Buckingham Palace, then his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is very much a story about being a soldier willing to fight in hard circumstances.
Mixed in with his descriptions of of every day soldiering are descriptions of his reading. One of the books he is reading in Iraq is The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thessiger. Another book is Allan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty which he reads in Afghanistan. He also writes about some of the films he watches in basic training like Band of Brothers, Gladiator, and Saving Private Ryan.
The writing is thoughtful, analytical, has a touch of black humor, and throws in some strong language. The strong language is appropriate for some of the muddy, dirty, sandy places in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also fits in the leave time where soldiers drink hard, read, and think.
The writing swtiches between thoughtful stretches and lulls between combat. The combat scenes are fast, people get killed, ambushed, blown apart by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and are wounded. The author is up front about his desire to get on the ground and destroy the enemy.
The description of the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the Iraqui guard are not very flattering, but the enemy taliban and Al Qaedar are described as being far worse. You get a sense from the book that the fighting in Afghanistan is much more intense than in Iraq. Also the descriptions of our allies in Afghanistan was quite eye opening. He does a good job of describing how different their thinking is than people in the west. The one thing which he does say that is intriguing is that the Afghanis don't want doctors and aid, they want teachers and learning. Patrick Hennessey also describes without hesitation how the taliban often use Chinese and Russian small arms and rpgs and are trained by Iranians.
I like the ending where Patrick Hennessey is sent to the United States to train marines to fight the taliban. Patrick Hennessey was promoted in the field to become the youngest frontline captain the United Kingdom's army. This book is honest, well written, thoughtful, often uncomfortable, and bloody. It is a memoir.