I’ve never been a reader of memoirs. Novels are more my speed. A good novel, I’ve felt, is as true – no, truer – to life than nonfictional accounts constrained by fidelity to facts. But while few novels have yet to come out of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the number of memoirs by veterans keeps growing. So I started reading memoirs. I wasn’t looking for great literature, nor did I find it. With each book, I was looking for a window into the experience of war and home-coming from the point of view of a warrior. That, I found.
This post gives mini-descriptions of five of the finest memoirs I have read so far. I’ll write about others in a future post.
The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education by Craig Mullaney
Fascinating reading for a civilian trying to understand what makes a brilliant and idealistic young man choose to be a soldier in a time of war. Mullaney, a Rhodes scholar and Army Ranger, served in Afghanistan and Iraq. His book is carefully written, earnest and thoughtful. Mullaney conveys the extraordinary responsibility that young lieutenants carry as they lead men into battle and make life-or-death decisions while barely out of college. He is currently Senior Advisor at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), advising on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War by Brandon Friedman
Terrific, harrowing and well-written book by a former infantry officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Friedman confronts head-on the clash of his boyhood dreams of war with the reality of experience. “When I got out of the Army, I was done,” Friedman said in 2010. “I didn’t want to deal with anything anymore.” Friedman is now a Truman National Security Fellow and Director of New Media at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq by Paul Rieckhoff
Powerful, emotional account of a brash young lieutenant facing the realities of leading men into combat in Iraq, despite his doubts about whether the war was just. Fierce and driven, Rieckhoff has gone on to found and lead IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), a lively, forward-thinking and increasingly powerful organization that supports our newest veterans and their families.
Soft Spots: A Marine’s Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Clint Van Winkle
A Marine sergeant writes of the bonds formed in combat, and of his difficult return home after fighting in Iraq. Frank, courageous and brutally honest account of a veteran’s estrangement from civilian life and his terrifying struggle with PTSD. Van Winkle is also a filmmaker; click to watch his documentary, The Guilt.
Greetings from Afghanistan: Send More Ammo by Benjamin Tupper
A captain with an Embedded Training Team (ETT), Tupper spent a year in a remote outpost in Afghanistan, training, patrolling and fighting alongside the Afghan National Army. Tupper maintained a blog during his deployment, some of which was recorded in the field and broadcast on National Public Radio. Essentially a compilation of short blog posts, the book is full of vivid and surprising details.
Story by Melissa Cooper