The war in Iraq is well into its seventh year.
Washington Post editor David Finkel spent the better part of a year with a division of Rangers in Iraq during the period in 2007 to 2008- a time in which Bush ordered a surge of thousands of additional troops to Iraq to defeat the counterinsurgency.
The Good Soldiers is the book Finkel wrote after these experiences, and it’s a searing one that should be required reading for those who maintain that war has no costs.
Ralph Kauzlarich, who was born a week later than me, is the book’s central commander. A lieutenant colonel who learns some Arabic phrases to help interact with the locals and connect during his regular radio appearance, Kauzlarich is a career soldier whose philosophy at the book’s opening can be expressed in three words: “It’s all good.”
That philosophy is sorely tested in the weeks and months that follow.
Man after man, a dozen in total, are killed throughout the course of the time that Finkel spends with the unit. Some, like Duncan Crookston, die after excruciating suffering and months of attempted rehabilitation in the United States.
Kauzlarich comes to be called “The Lost Kauz” and compared to Bush, who cannot see what the men do.
Bush’s words hover like a ghost throughout the book. Finkel opens each chapter with a quote from the former president.
Some of the excerpts come from prepared speeches, while others more vernacular and representative of his character. “We’re kicking ass,” Bush says at one point, for example.
But, through their skillful placement as epigraphs, and thus their distance from the writing that follows, the quotes all illustrate the vast gaps between Bush’s comfortable callousness and the suffering the good soldiers undergo and inflict.
Finkel’s writing is spare and peppered with heartbreaking details, each of which illustrate the valor and character of the men and the undeniable toll of soldiers and Iraqis’ bodies and their humanity.
The soldiers’ families hurt, too. Finkel devotes extensive space in the book to recounting the toils of wives and their children trying to carry on and preserve the illusion for the soldier that, to steal from Kauzlarich, all is good on the homefront.
Some of the marriages endure excessive strain and end, while other couples struggle to bridge the gap of time and experience that has occurred during the second, third and sometimes fourth deployment.
In the end, the men return, but the war goes on. President Obama has stated his determination to bring soldiers home from both Afghanistan, but only after another surge that is similar to that depicted by Finkel.
In his recent Nobel Peace Prize address, Obama stated frankly that some of these soldiers will kill, while others will be killed. This admission may earn him some points for honesty, but will likely do little to reduce the agony witnessed and described so expertly by Finkel.