Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Jury of Your Peers

For me, the opinions of my colleagues in the publishing world matter. And for many of my authors, the opinions of reviewers matter. And well they should, since a good review can certainly make a difference in how a book performs.

But for an author like Patrick O’Donnell, author of four books—BEYOND VALOR, INTO THE RISING SUN, OPERATIVE SPIES & SABOTEURS, and WE WERE ONE—that all focus on the experiences of troops in combat, the opinions that really matter are those of the veterans. They are his jury of peers, especially now that he’s been to Iraq and seen a fair share of combat. Not that Pat’s reviews have been bad—they haven’t; see below—but what really matters is that he’s getting the veterans’ stories told.

On his latest book, WE WERE ONE, Pat told me often that he felt that it was his personal mission to tell the story of the regular guy fighting in Iraq, the guy who doesn’t have a platform from which to speak. Over and over, he’s told me, “These guys are the next Greatest Generation.” And I believe him.

I had the opportunity not long ago, right after the book came out, to meet many of the marines Pat met in Iraq. They are, for the large part, back home—in some cases only until they ship back to Iraq—and readjusting to regular life. But that readjustment has clearly not been easy for some. One guy I met, who wore long sleeves on a warm evening, spoke of the fragments that tore his arm up and severed nerves. He still has his arm, but the function is not what it was. Others told stories of their time in combat, in some cases of hand-to-hand combat. Their attitude reminded me of my old college buddies sitting around and talking about that frat party where we got really hammered and the stupid things we did as a result. But these boys got a very different education than my buddies and I did at college. I came home that night and told my wife that some of these boys could have had “PTSD” tattooed on their foreheads. And I say that not in judgment, but in concern.

It seems to me that the military learned very little from prior wars, particularly Korea and Vietnam, where the boys did not come home heroes, but came home more like prisoners released from a long sentence. Granted, some things have changed. Mostly units rotate home together now and the welcome home ceremonies are genuine and I’m sure have had a positive impact. People give up their first-class seats on planes so that a soldier might get home to his family a bit earlier. That’s a far cry from the spitting and name-calling that some endured coming home from Vietnam. But more clearly needs to be done. As a country, we need to get behind our troops. There is no way to “support our troops, but not the war.” So it means we have to get behind this war.

In Vietnam, we worried about the “Domino Effect,” that if Vietnam fell to communism, so would all of Asia. But it didn’t happen. I wonder, though, if the same could be said of Iraq. Iran is already a fundamentalist Muslim country. Egypt remains a “democracy” by force of arms and the efficient suppression of outspoken religious fundamentalists. Syria is a dictatorship that hates the United States and Israel. Do we need or want another Iran or Syria or even Egypt in the Middle East? One client of mine, who had a “character-building experience” with the marines in Beirut, told me that the one thing no Arab leader wants is a free, democratic Iraq. Because freedom is contagious (I hope even as contagious as religious fundamentalism). When one country rises up from dictatorship and experiences freedom, citizens from neighboring countries often get the urge.

Whether or not the United States made the right decision to invade Iraq is now a moot point. We did. We are there. And we do have a responsibility to bring peace to that country, whether by force of arms or diplomacy, and likely a mix of the two. And cutting off funding won’t bring peace. All that will do is make it harder for the troops who are over there to do their jobs. If you support the troops, then support the war. Either you are all in, or all out.

And if you want to know more about what it is like to be in that war, read Patrick O’Donnell’s book, WE WERE ONE. In the 2/26 issues of the MARINE CORPS TIMES, AIR FORCE TIMES, NAVY TIMES, and ARMY TIMES, the reviewer wrote, “First-rate reading…. The book admirably depicts the brutal realities of street-to-street, house-to-house fighting…. …the portrayal of 1st Platoon as a close-knit family of men who would lay down their lives for one another is a sincere study of men facing a deadly enemy. There is no lack of good histories on the battle for Fallujah. But WE WERE ONE, more than the others, captures the sensory details and emotional drama of good men killing and dying for one another and their country.”



L.C.McCabe said...


I was surprised to see such a political statement on a literary blog, but since you wish to engage a public discourse on a topic of international significance I shall respond in kind.

I believe it is possible to support our troops while opposing the continued occupation of Iraq.

We can start by making sure that our veterans are treated with the dignity they deserve. The scandal that is our Veterans Administration starting with Walter Reed is indefensible. It needs to change. We also need to restore veteran's benefits that have been cut.

This current administration uses troops as backdrops for photo opportunities, but treats the soldiers and veterans poorly. They wrap themselves up in the flag and dare anyone to criticize their actions.

If you did not view last week's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO, I recommend you try to watch it so that you can see his interview with retired Major General Paul Eaton. He was devastating in his criticism of this administration's mishandling of this war.

By Rumsfeld's official acts which condoned torture of suspects, we have condemned our soldiers to being reviled rather than respected.

The people of the Middle East have a long history and a long memory of injustices done against them. They do not forgive easily. In doing research for my novel I have watched many documentaries regarding the Middle East and Islam.

One example that illustrates my point was "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" with Michael Wood. He retraced the path of conquest made by that infamous warrior from Greece, Egypt and Asia. Many of the people who he spoke with related stories of how the Macedonian army committed atrocities against their ancestors. They spoke as if these actions happened the year before rather than over 2000 years before.

The Iraqis will never forgive us for the crimes done against their people.

Just as the Irish have never forgiven the crimes committed by Oliver Cromwell.

I am not condemning the acts of all of our soldiers, but it only takes the examples of some who rape and murder and torture to inflame the passions of those who are victimized to hate everyone who is related to them.

People hate occupying armies.

We are no longer at war in Iraq. We toppled their government and installed another one in its place. Now we are occupiers with no military goals to accomplish. What would victory look like?

To continue the occupation we would simply be sending more young women and men to be sacrificed on the altar of profit for Halliburton to maintain their holdings and continued federal subsidies.

It is sick and immoral.

We haven't even properly armed our soldiers who are there.

This madness must stop.

Last October, a nephew of a good friend of mine was killed in Iraq. The November before on Veterans' day, a son of a former co-worker of mine was killed in Iraq. He was two years older than myself.

I grieve for their losses, and I do not want more families to suffer needlessly.

Our presence in the region is aggravating things more than helping. The Iraqi people wish us to leave. If they are to be thought of as a sovereign country, why can't we respect their wishes?

Those who welcomed us because they perceived us as liberators now view us as oppressors.

We have overstayed our welcome, and we need to leave.

We can support those who volunteered for the military by seeing that they get the medical and financial help they need as well as mental health.

We can support our soldiers without supporting this occupation.

So, with all due respect, I disagree with your position statement. I do however wish your client success with his books.


Andrew Zack said...

Actually, I wouldn't call this a "literary" blog. It's really about my clients and their books. When their books cover something like the war in Iraq, well then obviously that's a subject up for discussion.

We don't currently get HBO and I miss Bill Maher greatly.

Whether the "Iraqi people" want us to leave seems to be one of those things that's hard to nail down. Has their government asked us to leave? I don't recall reading that. Does the man in the street want us to leave? Maybe. Depends on which man you ask. But until the Iraqi government officially requests that the US leave, I suspect we're going to be staying, regardless of the "man in the street" interviews that indicate we should leave.

My condolences to your friends on their losses. Wouldn't it be a shame if we pulled out, the country fell into civil war, became the next Iran, and their children had died for nothing? I'd rather hope that Iraq will someday be a shining beacon of freedom with a memorial in the middle of Baghdad, celebrating all those brave Americans who died making that happen.


juanabacoa said...

I've just read your post. It was inspiring and moving. We take so much for granted--especially our troops.

Many thanks to your author for representing our troops with dignity and thanks to you for reminding us that they are not political pawns for either side, they're men and women just like us (except that they're a hell of alot more courageous!)

Great Post!

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