Sunday, October 31, 2010

The End of Major Combat Operations

by Nick McDonell

This one hundred sixty-odd page book was included as a part of the 34th edition of McSweeney's, and contains McDonell's observations and ruminations, following a period of time being embedded with the 1st Cavalry Division in Mosul, Iraq.

McDonell examines life in Iraq as the Americans begin to wind down their presence (paradoxically through a surge), and the book is written in a choppy, almost fragmentary form, with chapters never lasting more than a couple of pages.  He never concerns himself with giving his readers the 'big picture', preferring instead to tell some individual stories or to explain isolated incidents he observed.

The picture is of an Iraq where no one really knows what's going on.  Most of the American soldiers, young and brash, don't much care about why they are there, and look only to serve.  Their commanders are often equally clueless.

While some Americans get a detailed portrait painted of themselves, the people in this book that stuck with me were the interpreters (or terps).  These people, who provide such an essential service, are in such danger, and seem to be equally vilified by Americans and Iraqis alike.  There are few options available to these men, and I found that I really felt for them.

This book has served as a nice counterpoint to some of the other Iraq war reading I've been doing lately, which has been more concerned with the early days of the war.  This is an interesting and quick read.  Recommended.

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