The Good Soldiers

By David Finkel
Publisher:Picador, (8/3/2010)

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It was the last-chance moment of the war. In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq. It became known as "the surge." Among those called to carry it out were the young, optimistic army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, the battalion nicknamed the Rangers. About to head to a vicious area of Baghdad, they decided the difference would be them.

Fifteen months later, the soldiers returned home — forever changed. The chronicle of their tour is gripping, devastating, and deeply illuminating for anyone with an interest in human conflict.  With The Good Soldiers, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Finkel has produced an eternal story — not just of the Iraq War, but of all wars, for all time.
David Finkel is a staff writer for The Washington Post, and is also the leader of the Post’s national reporting team. He won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting in 2006 for a series of stories about U.S.-funded democracy efforts in Yemen. Finkel lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and two daughters.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award

It was the last-chance moment of the war. In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq. He called it the surge. “Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Well, here are the differences,” he told a skeptical nation. Among those listening were the young, optimistic army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, the battalion nicknamed the Rangers. About to head to a vicious area of Baghdad, they decided the difference would be them.

Fifteen months later, the soldiers returned home forever changed. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel was with them in Bagdad, and almost every grueling step of the way.

In his remarkable report from the front lines, David Finkel looks for the true story behind the surge and tries to measure its success against the plan that was proposed in 2007.

Combining the action of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down with the literary brio of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, The Good Soldiers is an unforgettable work of reportage. In telling the story of these good soldiers, the heroes and the ruined, David Finkel has also produced an eternal tale—not just of the Iraq War, but of all wars, for all time.

"Against the tradition of combat memoirs, [Finkel] chooses to keep himself out of the action, so that The Good Soldiers sometimes reads more like a novel than a reporter’s journal, with Finkel as the omniscient narrator . . . The Good Soldiers is more than a splendid account of men in combat. It will stand as the classic book about an extremely challenging war."—Daniel Ford, Durham, New Hampshire, Michigan War Studies Review

"David Finkel faced an unenviable task in writing his on-the-ground account of war in Iraq. Not only did he come very close to being killed, he also labored under the weight of our collective exhaustion. Six years of war in Iraq has produced a mountain of news reports, newspaper series, long magazine articles, documentary films, TV shows, Hollywood features, volumes of poetry and literally hundreds of books, mostly memoirs and journalistic accounts of the lives of the U.S. soldiers. Yet into this crowded field Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Finkel plunged. In The Good Soldiers Finkel follows the 15 months' deployment of the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. The narrative follows the battalion—about 700 soldiers—from Fort Riley, Kan., in early 2007 to the violent, sewage-clogged sprawl of East Baghdad, and then back. This last movement, the return home, is the most profound. Finkel's main character is the battalion commander, Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, a man in his early 40s who comes across as affable, committed, religious, hard-working and naive. He wonders why Iraqis hate him. 'It's all good' and 'We're winning' roll off his tongue without irony. The wounding and death of various soldiers punctuate the larger arc of the book. The deaths are tragic, but the injuries are most harrowing."—Christian Parenti, The Washington Post Book World

"The Iraq war in David Finkel’s heart-stopping new book is not the Bush administration’s misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and ideological fervor meticulously chronicled by Thomas Ricks in his benchmark 2006 study, Fiasco. It isn’t the bungled occupation run out of the Green Zone bubble, depicted with such acuity by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in his 2006 book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City. And it isn’t the foreign-policy imbroglio debated year after year by neoconservatives and liberals, by politicians, Pentagon officials and pundits. No, the war described in Mr. Finkel’s book, The Good Soldiers, is something far more immediate and visceral: the war as experienced on the ground, day by day, moment by moment, by members of an Army battalion sent to Baghdad during the surge in 2007. With a novelistic sense of narrative and character, Mr. Finkel—the national enterprise editor of The Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter—shows the fallout that the decision to invade Iraq and the war’s 'ruinous beginnings' would have on a group of individual soldiers, who, by various twists of fate, found themselves stationed in a hot spot on the edge of Baghdad . . . Like Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Tim O’Brien’s Things They Carried, this is a book that captures the surreal horror of war: the experience of blood and violence and occasional moments of humanity that soldiers witness firsthand, and the slide shows of terrible pictures that will continue to play through their heads long after they have left the battlefield . . . By using the New Journalism techniques Tom Wolfe made famous several decades ago—describing scenes in novelistic detail and closely interviewing subjects so as to capture their thoughts and memories—Mr. Finkel does a vivid job of conveying what these young men think while out on hazardous patrols, how they feel when they kill a suspected insurgent and how they react when they see one of their own comrades go down or be burned alive. Included in the book are several devastating accounts of soldiers’ Humvees’ being blown up by EFPs (a particularly lethal type of IED called an explosively formed penetrator); some moving encounters with Iraqis who want to cooperate with, even befriend, the Americans but who are terrified of reprisals; and a horrifying, almost blow-by-blow account of the 2007 killing of two Reuters journalists, who were mistaken for insurgents by a United States helicopter crew that opened fire. The central focus of Mr. Finkel’s book is the battalion’s leader, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, a perennial optimist convinced that his men would 'be the difference' in winning the war. Colonel Kauzlarich was 'a skinny boy with jutting ears who had methodically recreated himself into a man who did the most push-ups, ran the fastest mile and regarded life as a daily act of will.' Mr. Finkel’s portraits of other members of Battalion 2-16 are equally dynamic and haunting. There’s Jay March, who was out of options after high school, wandered into a recruiting office in Sandusky, Ohio, and joined up because he was impressed by a recruiter named Phillip Cantu, an Iraq war veteran who’d witnessed the capture of Saddam Hussein (and who later killed himself when the stresses of the war finally caught up with him) . . . It is Mr. Finkel’s accomplishment in this harrowing book that he not only depicts what the Iraq war is like for the soldiers of the 2-16—14 of whom die—but also the incalculable ways in which the war bends (or in some cases warps) the remaining arc of their lives. He captures the sense of comradeship the men develop among themselves. And he also captures the difficulty many of the soldiers feel in trying to adapt to ordinary life back home in the States, and the larger disconnect they continue to feel between the war that politicians and generals discussed and the war that they knew firsthand."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich's favorite saying is 'It's all good.' In April 2007, he led a battalion of 800 soldiers into one of the most dangerous areas in Baghdad. The 2-16 Battalion left Fort Riley, Kan., to stay in Iraq for 15 months. The average age of the soldiers was 19. David Finkel, a reporter for the Washington Post, does a stunning job of bringing us inside their lives, hearts and minds. He notices what they hold for good luck, how they stand to keep from getting hit, what parts of their bodies they tend to protect. He takes us into the terribly dangerous Humvees, moving coffins, as they move across the Iraqi landscape; they are hit again and again, dragged in, cleaned up and sent out again. He goes home with the men on leave and shows how several are forever changed. They have seen their fellow soldiers burn to death, explode, return home missing limbs, eyes, feet, hands. By July 2007, he writes, many o...

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kfdet's thoughts on "The Good Soldiers"
updated on:3/28/2011

Very Unleashable

"The Good Soldiers"
By David Finkel

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

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