Quick housekeeping note: Probably no blog on Thursday, so Happy Thanksgiving! Will be back Friday with our regular Good News Friday post.
A few years ago I read a remarkable book by Washington Post reporter David Finkel called The Good Soldiers, in which Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in the U.S. Army, following them to Iraq for a harrowing tour of death, fighting, and misery.
It was an incredible book, maybe one of the best on war I’ve ever read, and as I wrote back then, Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, truly made you feel like you were there with the soldiers.
Two years later Finkel has written an even better book, about what happens when our soldiers come home, broken, battered, and severely psychologically damaged. Thank You For Your Service is shocking, like Finkel’s previous book was, but in two very different ways.
Here, the shock comes from just how mentally destroyed these men who saw such awfulness are, and how difficult it is to try to re-adjust to the real world. And the other sad shock is how incredibly disorganized and often hapless the U.S. government is in trying to help these men, from pushing them from one case manager and therapist to another, to offering inadequate answers to why so many soldiers have come home from this war and killed themselves.
The book goes deep into the lives of these men, like Adam Schumann (above), who still has nightmares and guilt about men in his command who died in battle (after not being on the scene when one of his men died, another comes back and says “This shit never would’ve happened if you’d been there.” That one comment haunts him for years.”)
There’s Tausolo Aieti, who wakes up screaming nearly every night after dreaming that another dead soldier is blaming him for his death.
Finkel also shows us the whole spectrum of recovery, from some success stories inside therapy programs the VA runs, to the awful toll the psychological damage takes on the soldiers’ wives and families, and he even takes us inside high-level Pentagon meetings, where the incredible rash of suicides is examined case by case, to try to see exactly what’s wrong.
This book is absorbing, and hard to put down. The details are extraordinary; Finkel lives with these men and their wives and families for months, and we get to see all the stops and starts, the fights and the successes, like we’re right there in the room.
One sample passage: Of one soldier, Finkel writes: “He began to take sleeping pills to fall asleep and another kind of pill to get back to sleep when he woke up. He took other pills, too, some for pain, others for anxiety. He began to drink so much vodka that his skin smelled of it, and then he started mentioning suicide.”
The true devastation of war isn’t always known when the tanks pull away and the helicopters leave; the tragedies continue at home.
This is a hugely important book, and not an easy one to read, because you’ll probably come away angry, like I did.
**Remember a few weeks ago in this space when I wrote about a survey that reported which American regional accents were the best and worst? Well, time for something even cooler; this video, put together by the great folks at The Atlantic, is four minutes of all the different dialects of the U.S. spoken together.
We hear about grinders, subs, and hoagies; of Coke, pop, and sod-er, and all kinds of good stuff.
Part of the glory of America, don’t you think? But you people who say “grinders” are just strange to this New Yawker.
**Finally today, a really embarrassing story out of Bangladesh, that ought to shame the American corporations involved.
Surely you remember the awful factory collapse in that country last year, when awful working conditions resulted in the deaths of 1,200 workers.
Now, American companies whose products were being made there, companies like Walmart, Sears, and The Children’s Place, are refusing to offer ANY assistance toward victims compensation funds. Several European companies are helping out, but Walmart and the rest are showing a pathetic lack of concern.
From this N.Y. Times story: “Walmart is the one company that is showing an astonishing lack of responsibility, considering that so much of their product was being made at the Tazreen factory,” said Samantha Maher, a campaign coordinator for the British arm of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European anti-sweatshop group.
Just awful. These people died making your products in an unsafe factory, and you don’t have the decency to offer their families compensation. Disgusting.