Inside the Iraq 'surge'

The Good Soldiers
By David Finkel
Scribe Publications (2009),
287 pages (pb), $35.00

US journalist David Finkel spent a total of eight months in Iraq observing the “surge” — then President George W. Bush’s escalation of the Iraq war, announced in January 2007. Finkel lived with and recorded the experiences of the 2-16 Battalion, from Fort Riley, Kansas, which spent 15 months in Baghdad trying, unsuccessfully, to make a section of the city “secure”.

Finkel’s approach is very low key. He reports what the soldiers did and said, and generally avoids any overt political commentary. However, the sharp and often very moving presentation of what these young men were going through delivers a powerful antiwar message. And although Finkel did not have the same sort of inside view of the Iraqi resistance and the people of Baghdad, the experiences of Iraqis employed by the US military make it clear how widely the occupation is despised.

The story is presented chronologically, and each chapter begins with a quotation from Bush giving his position on what was happening at the time. The actions and views of the soldiers then provide a fascinating counterpoint as the book progresses and their experiences more and more diverge from the official view of reality. The concluding parts of the book deal with some of the aftermath. For many of the soldiers, it is a horrific physical and/or mental trauma. Whether intended or not, this book is still a powerful indictment of imperialist war.