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 TheGood 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 WashingtonPost, 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.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award
McCornmick, Patricia. Purple Heart (Balzer and Bray, 2009).
When Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an army hospital in Iraq, he's honored with a Purple Heart. But he doesn't feel like a hero. There's a memory that haunts him: an image of a young Iraqi boy as a bullet hits his chest. Matt can't shake the feeling that he was somehow involved in his death. But because of a head injury he sustained just moments after the boy was shot, Matt can't quite put all the pieces together.
Eventually Matt is sent back into combat with his squad—Justin, Wolf, and Charlene—the soldiers who have become his family during his time in Iraq. He just wants to go back to being the soldier he once was. But he sees potential threats everywhere and lives in fear of not being able to pull the trigger when the time comes. In combat there is no black-and-white, and Matt soon discovers that the notion of who is guilty is very complicated indeed. National Book Award Finalist Patricia McCormick has written a visceral and compelling portrait of life in a war zone, where loyalty is valued above all, and death is terrifyingly commonplace.
Menendez, Ana. The Last War: A Novel (HarperPerennial, 2010).
Photojournalist Flash chases conflicts around the globe with her war correspondent husband, Brando. Now Brando is in Iraq awaiting her arrival, but instead of racing to join him, Flash idles in Istanbul, vaguely aware that her marriage is faltering. Her malaise is compounded by the arrival of a mysterious letter revealing Brando's infidelity—and by the sudden appearance of Alexandra, a fierce and captivating colleague who shared dangerous days with the couple in Afghanistan. As Flash spirals deeper into regret, anger, and indecision, she wonders if she and Brando were ever really happy—as she's forced to confront long-buried secrets and hard truths about her world, her marriage, her husband, and herself.
Riverbend. Baghdad Burning (The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2005).
In August 2003, the world gained access to a remarkable new voice: a blog written by a 25-year-old Iraqi woman living in Baghdad, whose identity remained concealed for her own protection. Calling herself Riverbend, she offered searing eyewitness accounts of the everyday realities on the ground, punctuated by astute analysis on the politics behind these events. In a voice in turn eloquent, angry, reflective and darkly comic, Riverbend recounts stories of life in an occupied city—of neighbors whose homes are raided by US troops, whose relatives disappear into prisons and whose children are kidnapped by money-hungry militias. At times, the tragic blends into the absurd, as she tells of her family jumping out of bed to wash clothes and send e-mails in the middle of the night when the electricity is briefly restored, or of their quest to bury an elderly aunt when the mosques are all overbooked for wakes and the cemeteries are all full. The only Iraqi blogger writing from a woman’s perspective, she also describes a once-secular city where women are now afraid to leave their homes without head covering and a male escort.
Interspersed with these vivid snapshots from daily life are Riverbend’s analyses of everything from the elusive workings of the Iraqi Governing Council to the torture in Abu Ghraib, from the coverage provided by American media and by Al-Jazeera to Bush’s State of the Union speech. Here again, she focuses especially on the fate of women, whose rights and freedoms have fallen victim to rising fundamentalisms in a chaotic postwar society.
With thousands of loyal readers worldwide, the Riverbend blog is widely recognized around the world as a crucial source of information not available through the mainstream media. The book version of this blog will have “value-added” features: an introduction and timeline of events by veteran journalist James Ridgeway, excerpts from Riverbend’s links and an epilogue by Riverbend herself.
Stamaty, Mark Alan. Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq (Dragonfly Books, 2010).
The inspiring story of an Iraqi librarian's courageous fight to save books from the Basra Central Library before it was destroyed in the war. It is 2003 and Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, has grown worried given the increased likelihood of war in her country. Determined to preserve the irreplacable records of the culture and history of the land on which she lives from the destruction of the war, Alia undertakes a courageous and extremely dangerous task of spiriting away 30,000 books from the library to a safe place.
Told in dramatic graphic-novel panels by acclaimed cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, Alia's Mission celebrates the importance of books and the freedom to read, while examining the impact of war on a country and its people.
Winter, Jeanette. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq (Harcourt Children's Books, 2005).
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra. For fourteen years, her office has been a meeting place for those who love books--until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears the library will be destroyed. She asks government officials for help, but they refuse. So Alia takes matters into her own hands, working secretly with friends to move the thirty-thousand new and ancient books from the library and hide them in their homes. There, the books are stacked in windows and cupboards and even in an old refrigerator. But they are safe until the war moves on--safe with the librarian of Basra.
This moving true story about a real librarian's brave struggle to save her war-stricken community's priceless collection of books is a powerful reminder that the love of literature and the passion for knowledge know no boundaries.
Maxine Hong Kingston began writing at the age of nine ("I was in the fourth grade and all of a sudden this poem started coming out of me"). She won her first writing award-a journalism contest at UC Berkeley-when she was sixteen. In 1976 THE NEW YORK TIMES praised her first book, THE WOMAN WARRIOR, comparing it to Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, saying, "It is an investigation of soul . . . Its sources are dream and memory, myth and desire. Its crises are crises of the heart in exile from roots that bind and terrorize it." At the age of thirty-six, she was a celebrity, winning the National Book Critic's Circle Award. Other books would follow, and the praise would continue to be unstinting. In 1980, she was named a Living Treasure of Hawai'i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i.
In 1991, following a massive fire in the Oakland-Berkeley hills that consumed Maxine's house and the only copy of her manuscript-in process, THE FOURTH BOOK OF PEACE, and as the first President Bush was ordering the invasion of Iraq, she began offering writing and meditation workshops for veterans, to help them give voice to their experiences and work toward personal peace. As she'd hoped, the writing became a process of healing and renewal not just for the veterans but also for Maxine. She drew on the experience of these workshops in THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE.
In 1997, Maxine Hong Kingston was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton. In March 2003, she was arrested for crossing a police line at the White House as part of a CODEPINK action to protest the Iraq War. She retired last year from her career teaching literature and creative writing, mostly at UC Berkeley, where she was known for offering personalized instruction to each student, even in auditorium-sized classes, encouraging "real communication."
Maxine Hong Kingston performs a duet book reading with Gulf War I veteran Sean Mclain Brown
Introduction to Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Tell the Truth, and So Make Peace
All my life, I have wanted to keep soldiers safe from war. During World War II, my cousins in uniform stayed at our house on their way to and from military bases in California, the Pacific, and Europe. I heard veterans—including my mother, a refugee, a medic—talk story about the war that was killing and maiming right now as they spoke. Listening to people who had lived to tell the tale, I believed that it was the telling that kept them alive. They had survived hell and come back to warn us at home.
As Odysseus, the archetypical warrior, made his way home, he nar- rated his journey—setting off to war, waging the long war, coming home—to listener after listener. The story grew until, finally home, he could tell the whole tale and become whole. We tell stories and we listen to stories in order to live. To stay conscious. To connect one with another. To understand consequences. To keep history. To rebuild civilization.
About twenty years after our war in Vietnam—the Fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War, the American War—the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh gathered war veterans and their family members in retreats for making peace. In Noble Silence, they meditated: eating mindfully, walking mindfully, hugging mindfully, and hearing the Bell of Mind- fulness. Walking meditation is the specific antidote to the march that soldiers learn in basic training. On hugging, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When you hug one Vietnamese person, you hug all Vietnamese people.” I thought, When you hug one American, you hug all of us. In the circle of the community, someone would sing or speak or dance; the entire sangha bowed to him or her.
Singing, hugging, dancing, we were a community. But it is in words that each individual reveals a unique mind. The veterans needed to write. They would write the unspeakable. Writing, they keep track of their thinking; they leave a permanent record. Processing chaos through story and poem, the writer shapes and forms experience, and thereby, I believe, changes the past and remakes the existing world. The writer becomes a new person after every story, every poem; and if the art is very good, perhaps the reader is changed, too. Miraculous transforma- tions! So, I added writing meditation to Thich Nhat Hanh’s program for veterans.
We practiced writing in community. We would not have to write alone. We had one another to write with, and to write for. If you felt like quitting, you’d look across the table or garden or terrace or grove, and see the others bowed over their notebooks and laptops, and you kept going.
People who care what we have to say surround us. They draw the stories out of us by their wanting to know. Toward the end of the day, I evoke Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassionate listening: “We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world.” And each one reads aloud a new story, a new poem.
The veterans did their most dramatic writing when I presented the First Precept, which is a vow against killing: “I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.” A moral ethic helps shape and form thoughts about the war chaos. The drama is not just in the battle scenes but in the moral conflict. Worried that the veterans would not take instruction from me, a non-veteran, I invited writers who had had war experience to help me teach. Larry Heinemann. George Evans. Wayne Karlin. Ho Anh Thai. Le Minh Khue. Fred Marchant. Grace Paley. Every one of these good- hearted artists affirmed that the written word gives life.
As the writers became skilled in knowing others’ points of view, they enlarged the definition of veteran. A veteran could be a woman; a veteran could be a deserter; a veteran could be a civilian who had served in war; a veteran could have been a member of a street gang; a veteran could be a survivor of domestic violence; a veteran could be a peace activist. All manner of persons identified themselves as veterans and came to join the regulars, who argued for a while, then let every one belong. Wars affect all of our lives.
Our workshop/community/sangha has been meeting for a dozen years. There have been about 500 participants, counting people who met in the retreats on the East Coast and in Southern California. Nowa- days, about thirty of us (never quite the same thirty) will gather in Sebastopol, California, once each season. A veteran from the other end of the country will set his clock to Pacific Time and meditate when we meditate, write when we write. This book is a harvest of conver- sations among multitudes. Most of these writers have met one another face-to-face. Nearby or at a distance, we inspire and influence one another, reading one another, editing, translating, giving feedback. We even appear in one another’s tales.
If there is one thing the writers in this book have in common, it is that they are rebels. They had been assigned to war; they had volun- teered and almost lost their lives. No more volunteering. No more fol- lowing assignments. Suspicious of institutions, they have no name for our group. So, in this book, various writers call us: The Veteran Writers Group, the Veteran Writers’ Workshop, the Veterans Writing Sangha. I have not edited for uniformity. Let stand Viet Nam or Vietnam or Viêt Nam, Tet or Têt, Danang or Da Nang, Ha Noi or Hanoi, Communist or communist, terrorist or Terrorist, Hell or hell, God or god.
This community of writers began its work during Gulf War I and has continued meeting and writing to the present day—as the war against Iraq continues. All these years, these faithful writers have paid attention to wars past and to wars ongoing. Their stories and poems are immense in scope, and in heart, and—amazingly—full of life and laughter. They carried out our motto: Tell the truth.
And so make peace.
Kingston, Maxine Hong (editor). Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (Koa Books, 2006).
This poignant collection, compiled from Kingston's healing workshops, contains the distilled wisdom of survivors of five wars, including combatants, war widows, spouses, children, conscientious objectors, and veterans of domestic abuse. Vetrans of War, Vetrans of Peace includes accounts from people that grew up in military families, served as medics in the thick of war, or came home to homelessness. All struggle with trauma — PTSD, substance abuse, and other consequences of war and violence. Through their extraordinary writings, readers witness worlds coming apart and being put back together again through liberating insight, community, and the deep transformation that is possible only by coming to grips with the past.
Mike Prysner joined the Army and went for basic training on his eighteenth birthday in June, 2001. He was assinged to the 10th Mountain Division and in March of 2003 was attached to the 173rd Airborn Brigade deployed to northern Iraq. Below are two recorded statements about Prysner's tour of duty and his feelings about the Iraq war.