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By Aaron Davis (reviewer)
Warrior King: The Triumph and Betrayal of an American Commander in Iraq
By Nathan Sassaman
and Joe Layden
(St. Martin's Press, 2008)
In his new book Nate Sassaman writes, "Bring the soldiers home-now. Today... I don't care how many generals, colonels, captains-whatever-think they can win the war. You know why? I thought I could win the war, too. But there is no war right now. It's law enforcement."
Now before you jump to conclusions for or against the war, pick up a copy of Warrior King: The Triumph and Betrayal of An American Commander in Iraq.
As a young Army Officer, I followed Nate Sassaman's career from quarterbacking the West Point football team to an 8-3-1 record and Cherry Bowl victory over Michigan State in 1984, until I saw him as a battalion commander featured on a CNN report by Nick Robertson in 2003.
Like the movie Stop Loss, Warrior King is the story of a young man from Oregon who attends West Point and believes in Duty, Honor and Country throughout his career. His story is from a soldier's point of view.
Nate has written a frank and sobering look into his career, leadership, Iraq occupation, corruption, frustrations, the UCMJ and his own PTSD.
West Point: "The academy courts and attracts type A personalities-overachievers driven to lead and succeed. ...most cadets shared a common trait; it was an almost pathological fear of failure."
Training: "There are inherent challenges leading eighteen-year-olds with no more than a high school education into combat. ...they have not been trained to win hearts and minds. They have been trained to fight and win. We instill in these men the desire (and the capability) to kill the enemy...We expect them to be machines, but they aren't. They are human beings. In Iraq the blanket term was "Hadji"...it leads one to dehumanize the opponent...there is a devaluing of human life."
Leadership: "Had my career not involved combat duty...I might have been able to play the game...advanced to the rank of general officer. Iraq taught me something: I am not made that way. I am a soldier, not a politician. It's one thing to blindly follow ignorant orders in a time of peace; it's quite another when you're at war...the force is getting beaten down-physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The important thing...was not winning or losing...but putting the best face possible on something that is by definition, unpleasant: war. ...there seemed to be no coherent objective... To civilians and senior officers alike I used to say you really need to get some American blood on your hands before you start questioning commanders on the ground and how life should be over there. Fight your way out of a couple of ambushes, hold the hand of a friend as he dies, and then come and talk to me."
Politicians: "If you want to become a general officer, you'd better be a shrewd politician. ...the administration used the issue of weapons of mass destruction...for public relations purposes. Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld must accept a significant share of responsibility for what went wrong in Iraq. ...totally ignored the cultural and human endeavors...suggesting we could win a war with cell phones...F-16 rockets...and a handful of special forces troops riding camels and donkeys through the desert...it cost us a lot of American lives. ...inability to cope with a flood of young, unemployed, disgruntled Iraqi males...Its just not acceptable ...to invade other nations on the premise of eliminating a dictator without ...a commitment to putting that nation back on its feet."
War: "War is imprecise and unpredictable. It is in a word, terrible. There are victims in war. sometimes innocent, sometimes not. The line between right and wrong can be blurred to the point of invisibility....a lot of terrible things are going to happen in the course of a war...the sadness that envelops you as you walk through a farm and see body parts of children...war changes everyone who experinces it...a group of soldiers walking around for the better part of an hour, wearing latex gloves, scooping up body parts...my spirit was broken...I had crossed over to the dark side. I have been, for most of my life, an optimist, but Iraq sucked much of that out of me. This is the reality of war, and it is the price of bringing democracy to Iraq."
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: "I find it hard to believe that anyone who saw combat duty in Iraq can possibly escape the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. ...no one comes home unscathed...the irritability and anxiousness were unmanageable...I lay awake...replaying events in my head...I fought the war all over again. I'd wake up bathed in sweat. You can only fight the war only so many times in your head, but I couldn't turn off the noise."
Corruption: "On more than one occasion we raided homes...discovered goods that obviously been stolen from trucks on their way to an American base PX...cases of pampers, foot powder, or women's clothing from Sears or K-Mart...One guy had a closet filled with piles of Jaclyn Smith blouses."
Contract Security: "...the contract security experts? ...running around in white suburbans...dumb as rocks...flying up and down highway one at eighty, ninety miles per hour."
Uniform Code of Military Justice: "I've come to view the Uniform Code of Military Justice legal system as inherently unfair. ...you are guilty until proven innocent..."
Religious ideology: "There is no separation of state and religion in Iraq; it's one and the same....will never look like an American or European democracy, and it's unrealistic to expect otherwise. The fracturing of this country is more deeply rooted in religious differences than in anything else..."
Occupation: "The United States will continue to maintain a large occupational presence-a police force, in other words-in the Middle East for years, perhaps even decades to come."
Now that you know Nate tells it how it is, I don't want to spoil the best parts as he leads his infantry battalion into battle, deals with the death of two of his men, and his Article 15 in front of his mentor Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, who now commands all troops in Iraq.
You don't really think I am going to tell you how it all ends, do you? Not!
Aaron Davis is VVAW contact in Utah.
As a former Army reserve Major, he still is a pain in the ass to the military industrial complex and every politician.