Paul's Reviews > The Good Soldiers

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Dec 03, 13

bookshelves: history-will-teach-us-nothing
Read from August 04 to 10, 2011

This is a great book, a horror story which needed telling and a book which could actually change people’s minds.

It must be said that The Good Soldiers is mainly about men being maimed and killed. The good soldiers from America drive slowly through some of the worst parts of Baghdad and of course they are very frequently blown up. David Finkel reports the story of one army unit between January 2007 and April 2008, when the author was with them - in the famous word, "embedded". In those few months, 14 died. A lot of others received awful injuries. They did all this, they were told, and they believed, mostly, and repeated back to anyone who asked, for freedom. America’s and Iraq’s.

If they hadn’t been there at all, if the USA had removed Saddam Hussein and left, then the whole country, the wisdom ran, would have become a playground for al-Qaeda. Or, it would have become another jihadi-preaching cabal of hate-filled mullahs. Whatever. Same thing.

Before the invasion, Iraq was neither, because Saddam hated al-Qaeda and religious mullahs both. The Ba'ath Party was pan-Arabic and socialist (it was founded by a Christian). Bin Laden was on record saying very unflattering things about Saddam. No love lost.

Iraq was invaded in the first place because although it was al-Qaeda free, and had a secular government, Saddam was fanatically opposed to America and had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed within 30 minutes. Only that turned out not to be even slightly true. Having got rid of a dictator who didn’t have any power to harm them, the USA then had to feed its young men into the particular hell the country became to stop it turning into the kind of place it never would have become if Saddam had stayed in power.


But hey, the world’s better off without Saddam, of that we can all agree. It was just a bit expensive to remove him. So, the American teenage boys (average age 19) stayed to fight for Iraqi freedom. Of course, there’s another way of defining fighting for freedom.

If your country has been invaded and occupied by a foreign army, then maybe, fighting to get rid of the foreign army is, for you, fighting for freedom. In the case of Iraq, if you thought that, you would be wrong. But maybe, for an uneducated population, that was an easy mistake to make.

The soldiers said : Why aren’t you filled with love for us who came from a rich country and rid you of your tyrant who had wrecked your lived and eaten your children? Why do you spend hours constructing ingenious homemade devices which project jagged metal parts into our eyes, brains, stomachs and legs? You act like we are the enemy whereas we have just freed you from your enemy.

The soldiers were involved in two conflicts. One was with the Iraqis who were trying to kill them, they know it was probably only some of the Iraqis, but it felt like all of the Iraqis; the other was the conflict with themselves. The Humvees explode and the bodies pile up, most have faces on them which were drinking and eating with you when you last saw them, and each day as you surf that homicidal wave again and wonder if it’ll be you this time, even you, the most unreflective of men, must begin to wonder, what are we actually doing here? What good is all this? Why are we dying?

Consider the crazy occupation of Baghdad - in which these guys were instructed each day to expose themselves to death and maiming was a particular form of hell born out of a political gesture which got entirely carried away with its own momentum and which had never developed the least notion of an exit strategy or definable objective, except to use the infantry as human lightning conductors, focusing all the energies of the jihadis, until such time as the good Iraqis could get their own political and military institutions together – a holding operation, in other words, which was considered worth doing at the cost of 50 to 60 American lives per month.

There will be no equivalent of this great book from the Iraqi insurgent’s point of view. Every Western death is commemorated, every trauma and post-trauma agonised over. But the death and maiming handed out to the Iraqis are mentioned, if at all, in passing, and with cursing and contempt. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

The Good Soldiers documents one unit involved in George Bush’s famous troop surge. The impression you get is that the surge did nothing, that the decisions whether to crank up the bombings and rocket attacks or dial them down were taken by invisible warlords like al-Sadr, and that the relative peace we have now is by their fiat.


Number of civilians in Iraq killed PER DAY by roadside and suicide bombs :

2007: 21

2011 : 6.4

Deaths per day from gunfire & executions :

2007: 41

2011 : 4.8

And so, maybe, this measurable decline in violence is due not to the efforts of coalition troops but to complex internal struggles between the various Iraqi political and religious groups, all of which would have happened whether coalition troops were there or not. It may have all been futile.

This whole Iraq thing is a heartbreaker.

This book is a heartbreaker.

40 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Good Soldiers.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-19)

dateUp_arrow    newest »

message 19: by Ian (new)

Ian Paganus Have fun.
What music are you taking?

message 18: by Rita (new)

Rita enjoy! And don't forget to spend some time with your family too! Looking forward to you reviews when you are back again!

message 17: by Kate (new)

Kate When you return, perhaps you will be in the mood for some lightweight Edwardian porn? I received Strachey's "Ermyntrude & Esmeralda," read it in about 25 minutes, and would like to pass it along to you. The book is nicely illustrated-- by Erte'. And you are the only person I know who would appreciate the volume.

message 16: by Ian (new)

Ian Paganus Ha ha, Paul will have a legion of others he can pass it on to when he's finished.

message 15: by Kate (new)

Kate Good to know that the slender volume of Edwardian porn has an appreciative audience-- even if that audience isn't here in California. (You guys are classy!)

message 14: by Ian (new)

Ian Paganus California has been satiating appetites for centuries.

message 13: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink have fun, looks like you have escaped the riots!

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Hi all, just got back and wow, avoided the riots which in Nottingham were rather feeble but in London & Birmingham were impressive. Everytime I go on holiday some major political incident happens! So here's the first of a blizzard of reviews...

Kate - well, I am in the market for lightweight Edwardian porn, I think! I'll file it next to The Secret Life of Walter which I have in 2 vols but have never read.

message 11: by Clarissa (new) - added it

Clarissa I was fourteen on 9/11/01, and thus grew up alongside the "war on terror". I am embarassed to say that I was too involved in my adolescence to actually pay much attention to, or care about, world events at large let alone the war in Iraq. However, the times I tried to tune in and figure out just why we, the USA, were doing this I just got more confused. Your review is actually the most understandable explanation I've ever gotten on the topic, and I certainly plan on reading the book.

message 10: by Kate (new)

Kate Paul wrote: "Hi all, just got back and wow, avoided the riots which in Nottingham were rather feeble but in London & Birmingham were impressive. Everytime I go on holiday some major political incident happens! ..."

Paul wrote: "Hi all, just got back and wow, avoided the riots which in Nottingham were rather feeble but in London & Birmingham were impressive. Everytime I go on holiday some major political incident happens! ..."

Okay! Just tell me where to mail the book, and it'll be on its way to you!

Paul thanks, Clarissa, those are kind words

also thanks, Kate - I will respond shortly

message 8: by Kate (new)

Kate Regarding Iraq. My own sense of the thing was that after 9/11, many people in the US were anxious to take immediate revenge: to first clarify exactly who deserved the retaliation was felt by many to be weak, ineffectual, and/or unpatriotic. (People around me said some bloodcurdling things at that time.) The US President was personally eager to become a "wartime President" with all the acclaim that THAT historically accrues-- and urged his administration to hurry into action.
Yes, a heartbreaker.

message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian Paganus Kate wrote: "Regarding Iraq. My own sense of the thing was that after 9/11, many people in the US were anxious to take immediate revenge: to first clarify exactly who deserved the retaliation was felt by many t..."

The immediate revenge was inflicted on Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom).
Bombing started on October 7, 2001.

message 6: by Gary the (new) - added it

Gary the Bookworm This should be required reading for members of the US Congress who are so freaked out over Benghazi. And I agree with Ian's comment.

Paul and the grisly dance of death continues in the streets of Woolwich

message 4: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice Some of it is more senseless.

Not everybody in the US was eager to invade Iraq. There was a lot of sentiment against it. What was it that was on the signs in people's yards? War is Not the Answer? Blue on a white background. Don't forget--people didn't know there weren't WMDs.

After 9/11, people rallied around Bush, but after Iraq, we were polarized once again. He blew all his political capital.

In Afghanistan things seemed better for a while -- as per the author of The Kite Runner.

Benghazi--a story a certain political segment needs so are working real hard to get it written and keep it going. Manufactured outrage.

message 3: by Gary the (new) - added it

Gary the Bookworm Nice summary Jan. What irks me is all the manufactured outrage over Benghazi from the same people who forgave Bush for Iraq and Reagan for Iran-Contra.

message 2: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice

message 1: by Jan (last edited May 24, 2013 10:38AM) (new)

Jan Rice ...with thanks to Ian and others who have helped me with images on Goodreads. I still have a sense of adventure with it, as in, What will happen? Will it be an image? :-)

On the subject at hand, I think maybe everybody is manufacturing a story. Question is can it be done without a designated enemy that "we" will all agree to set upon. Woolwich just a little more literal than most. ...I guess that is provocative, but, don't worry, I am going to be turning it around in my own head.

back to top