Saturday, August 21, 2010
A Novel of Survival in the Hindu Kush: "The Mullah's Storm" by Thomas W. Young
Whenever I see that my friend, Nate Fick, has recommended a book, I know that it will be a worthwhile read. Nate, bestselling author of "One Bullet Away," is much too busy these days running the Center for a New American Security to waste his time on books that do not make a difference. "The Mullah's Storm" makes a strong impact. Written by Thomas W. Young as a novel, the action arises from Young's experience as a combat pilot. The tone of the book screams of someone who has been there and has heard the sounds, felt the chills and experienced the metallic taste of fear.
The action of the book - which proceeds at supersonic speed - centers of the shoot down of a U.S. plane, a Hercules C-130, carrying a "High Value Target" out of Afghanistan for interrogation. The mullah in question has lots of information that the military and intelligence community are eager to extract. The Taliban are adamant that this must not happen, so the plane is shot from the Afghani skies by a missile. Only three persons survive the crash and the subsequent attack by the Taliban - Major Michael Parson, the plane's navigator, Master Seargent Gold, an interpreter assigned to accompany the Mullah, and the ancient Mullah himself. Because of a lingering "100 year storm," rescue helicopters are unable to scramble from Bagram Air Force Base to mount a rescue operation. So Maj. Parson and Sgt. Gold are responsible for keeping the Mullah in custody and alive until they can be rescued. Sgt. Gold brings to bear her training in Pashto and the cultures of Afghanistan as she helps Maj. Parson to communicate with the Mullah and to understand the mindset of the enemy Taliban forces who are stalking them and trying to free their spiritual leader.
Young has woven a tale of terror and hardship in a very effective literary style. Allow me to share two excerpts that will give you a sense of his narrative voice. In the first excerpt, Maj. Parson has "lost it" after finding the decapitated body of one of the crew members of their downed plane. Enraged over this atrocity committed by the Taliban, Parson reacts by grabbing the prisoner by the throat, prepared to make the Mullah pay for the sins of his followers. Sgt. Gold intervenes and stops the madness before it goes too far. In this passage, Maj. Parson is reflecting on what happened to him:
"Flakes fell large and thick, spiraled down like dying mayflies. The mullah's breath came in labored wheezing, and the pack grew heavy across Parson's shoulders. Parson glanced at Gold, who wore an aggrieved expression. She had more than enough reason to look frightened or worried, but this was something else. More like deep sorrow or profound disappointment. Well, I gave her reason to be disappointed in me, Parson thought. She kept looking back at the mullah. Was she disappointed in him, too? What the hell did she expect? A squadron of cliff swallows darted by, five or six little brown birds crisscrossing each other, their rapid wingbeats taking them through the storm. Parson wished he could take flight and join their formation. But he could only place one foot in front of the other, in an old track, if possible, wandering like a pilgrim on a quest for enlightenment, carrying the burden of all his sins." (Page 76)
Later in the narrative, the author gives the reader further insight into the thought process and emotional upheaval that the war and this grueling rescue operation have had on Maj. Parson, whose prior experience in the war zone has been largely confined to the comforts of the flight deck or the Air Force bases where his Hercules aircraft were housed.
"Parson recalled when Marwan's men had done to Nunez, what they'd nearly done to him and Gold. The just-missed chance for payback. He wanted to shout, stab, soot. Now he could only watch and wait. And take another three steps. He wished he has some sort of emotional circuit protection, like the breakers in the airplane that tripped when the load got too high. But he had no such thing, and the wiring of his mind could only burn." (Page 216)
Our soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen fighting in Afghanistan continue to pay a heavy price for carrying out the orders that flow down the chain of command to them from the Pentagon. This novel eloquently reminds us of that cost. This is a book well worth reading.