“I have too many stories to tell, and if just a few of them get read, the ones that real people will understand, then maybe someone will know what we did here”. Amber Brown gives us the lowdown on an important book.
“I have too many stories to tell, and if just a few of them get read, the ones that real people will understand, then maybe someone will know what we did here. It won’t assuage the suffering inside me, inside all of us. It won’t bring back anyone’s son or brother or wife. It will simply make people aware, if only for one glimmering moment, of what war is really like.”
So starts the non-fiction book by John Crawford, aptly titled “The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldiers Account of the War in Iraq”. I spotted it in the bookstore the other day. I was drawn by it’s cover. I almost didn’t buy it due to the fact that like many Americans, I am overwhelmed about Iraq, our invasion – warranted or not -and the endless opinions on both sides.
But then I thought to myself, how could I not read it when most of what I have heard about the news is from politicians, analysts, and people who have never been there. Here was an accounting from a solider â€“ one man’s experience with the war in Iraq – as not just an observer – but a participant.
John Crawford spent three years in the 101st Airborne before enlisting in the National Guard to help pay for college. He writes “In my final year, with two credits left, I was sent to Kuwait and then to Iraq. We were promised short tours, three months, six at most. We crossed the berm the same day as the army’s Third Infantry Division, leading the invasion of Iraq.
When the Third Division was sent home, our National Guard unit was passed around the armed forces like a virus: 108th Airborne, First Marine Expeditionary, 101st Airborne, and finally the Armored Division. They were all sent home heroes of war. Meanwhile, my unit stayed on, my soul rotting, our unit outlasted by no one in our tenure there. The Florida National Guard, forgotten, unnoticed â€“ at one point the government even declared that we had been pulled out of Baghdad and brought home, although all around us the capital of our enemy seethed.”
Crawford has a way of writing that is both gripping and real in his detail and at the same time infused with humor and wit. He is serious and light hearted and takes you through his seemingly endless experience in Iraq with such skill – that I read the book from cover to cover in one night – not wanting to put it down until I had finished it.
I have to admit that there were parts of the book that made me close it in horror and put it aside for a few minutes while the reality of what he had experienced sunk in. Events and sites so grotesque and disturbing that you, like me, may finish thanking what ever higher power you speak with in your head that it wasn’t you there – because if it was – how on earth would you ever sleep again?
We all watch the news and hear the stories of this many soldiers were killed today in a car bombing/suicide bombing/attack in whatever part of Iraq. “Tsk, tsk, what a shame that we are still in Iraq. Fucking Bush and his Daddy’s war… I wonder what the weather will be like over the weekend….” And we move on to other topics that occupy our minds. These stories – these are those soldiers. Not just a quick blip on the television – but them, their lives inside the events that we so casually watch on the news.
What strikes me most about this book is the depiction of the transformation from normal American men and women, to fucked up basket-cases: the awful result of their forced descent into paranoia, cynicism, and in some cases, drug dependency.
I remember when the news broke about the prison abuse in Iraq. Conversation was usually along the lines of “Those soldiers should have known better…? How could they not know what they were doing was wrong….?â€. Even then, before I read this book, I thought to myself (and probably out loud to anyone who would listen) we can’t sit here, in our comfortable homes, and judge them.
We are not in a country where a good portion of the population would rather kill you then smile at you. In war, I imagine, that you almost have to de-humanize the ‘enemy’ in order to do whatever it is the military sent you to do… so how can we judge? The old cliche ‘Walk a mile in someones shoes’ comes to mind. Nothing illustrates this better than the chapter entitled “No Crying in Baseball” where Crawford describes his day to his wife over the phone. She complains about thier dog shitting all over the house.
“‘What could be grosser than cleaning up a house full of dog shit?’ The disgust in her voice was palable.’Try cleaning up brains.’ I tried to catch the words and pull them back even before they left my mouth.”The story that unfolds is horrifying.
Much like Elie Wiesel’s “Nightâ€, a small book unassuming in it quantity, is extremely potent in it’s content describing the brutal realities of war and the struggles, both physically and morally, of the soldiers that fight them.
Right from the preface – like an accident on the side of a highway- it draws you in. At once powerful, haunting and hilarious, this is book that must be read – no matter what your opinion of the war is. Neither propaganda for or against the the war, it is a collection of powerful stories revealing the gritty cost of war, and the sacrafice of these men and women.
You can review and buy the book here
Amber is a long time Blather reader and a first time Blather writer. We’re glad to have her. Despite rumors to the contrary, she is neither a color, a crayon nor a pub brew. She is, according to her business card, a creative director for an advertising/marketing firm in New Hampshire and a fine artist. Her other pastimes include writing, spewing weird philosophies, drawing, painting, singing in the shower, and shaving poodles.
She has an irrational fear of gray squirrels, public transportation and an intense dislike of lactose.
Amber can be contacted via Blather