I’m still thinking about it 10 days after I finished it.
I’ve been reading Iraq military memoir as I’ve been working on novel #2 (since the novel involves a military officer held hostage in Afghanistan), and I recently finished ‘The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell’ by John Crawford. Here’s what I thought:
I was looking for brutal honesty and the raw emotional toll of war (not a factual history tome), and I got it in this book. Sometimes it was as much what WASN’T written as what was. That is a delicate balance for a writer and it was powerful. (Note: toning down the swear words and tightening up the sentence structure would have made it even more powerful by making it less distractive to read.)
I caught a snippet of a documentary on TV the other night, about a situation where our bombers killed our own soldiers because they “got confused by the smoke.” It’s dismaying to realize that some things never change. I WANT to believe the Army Reserve is smarter and better organized now than my experience in it 20 years ago, but John’s experiences sound uncomfortably familiar – our tools were outdated, our training was under par, and the left hand never knew what the right was doing.
I (like the author) joined the National Guard to help pay for college; the recruiters laughed off any suggestion that we’d actually be sent anywhere to fight. What do you expect an 18- or 20-year-old to believe? And when you are immersed in a culture, you tend to adopt that culture’s attitudes (especially when you’re young) – and the military IS a culture. I lost site of some of the morals I’d been brought up with and I’d be willing to bet some of the author’s less tasteful characteristics may have been ‘exacerbated’ by this immersion too. I would have liked to know more about who the author was before he went to war, and what happened when he returned home (perhaps that’s another book altogether?).
There was one mind-blowing moment in my life when I thought I was being activated to Desert Storm. Thank God it was our armory-sharing MP unit instead – or I might have had the same disillusioning experience!