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CBR4 #45: The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

I really should stop reading these books about troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They only seem to make me feel angry, upset, and hopeless about the situation there.

David Finkel spent the majority of 2007 and part of 2008 following a battalion of Army Rangers as they participated in the "surge" in Iraq. It focuses mostly on their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich (by the end referred to by his troops as "Lost Kauz") and his struggles to try and be successful at a task that seems doomed to fail. They are tasked with improving the situation in Baghdad by patrolling, setting up outposts, and making inroads with the local people. Instead, they spend most of their time avoiding IEDs, being shelled, and trying to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that accompanies trying to accomplish anything.

Meanwhile, soldiers--ones we have been introduced to and have followed for pages or even chapters--die. Or are horribly maimed. Or are psychologically broken. Their friends, fellow soldiers, and commanding officers have to not only deal with that, but also have to handle the fact that tomorrow, it could just as easily be one of them zipped into a body bag or evacuated on a  helicopter.

Life isn't much easier for those who get to go home. Many of them must cope with debilitating physical and mental injuries. Their families must try to adjust to these unfamiliar men who have returned wearing the shape of their husbands, fathers, or sons. A section that details a visit to a Texas rehab hospital is completely gut-wrenching.

The worst part of this book is that in the end, nothing has really changed. The unit's fifteen month mission has basically been a  failure, in that they have not really improved anything. It's still impossible to know who is on the Americans' side and who is going to try to kill them at the first opportunity. The Iraqis still live in a state of constant fear and danger, and the the US has done nothing but lose good soldiers for no reason at all.

It's a well-written, well-researched book, but it's also extremely depressing and disheartening. It's absolutely worth reading, but it's not something you'll necessarily feel good about once you've finished it.

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