Monday, March 01, 2010

Battling Ambivalence About the War in Iraq: Review of "Senator's Son - an Iraq War Novel" by Luke S. Larson

Luke Larson served with the U.S. Marines Corps infantry officer and saw two tours of duty in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 and 2007. He was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" for valor. Larson has taken the full range of experiences that he and his Marines endured while serving in Iraq, layered those experiences with the symphony of emotions and memories that play in his head from his time in Iraq, and has crafted a novel that prompted USMC Major Marcus Mainz to write: "[This book is] the most realistic account of what actually happens in a rifle company during a counterinsurgency battle."

In choosing a poignant epigraph to lead Act II of his novel, Larson makes clear his intent in offering this book to willing readers and those eager to know the truth: "Those who do not battle for their country do not know with what ease they accept their citizenship. - Dean Brelis" (Page 65)

The author does a very effective job of illuminating a parody of the concept of the "strategic corporal," tying it into the arcana of Chaos Theory. The excerpt below succinctly captures some of the frustration that the author is seeking to convey about the "no win" situation that troops on the ground often face.

"'I get it,' said Rock breaking up the lieutenants' scuffle. 'It's the strategic corporal. A Marine on patrol looks at a butterfly flapping its wings, he isn't paying attention and BOOM - he gets killed by an IED. The next day, on a patrol, his squad leader at the tactical level, revenge murders some innocent Iraqis, 'cause his buddy got smoked the day before. then the shit goes sideways.

A reporter happens to be standing there and catches the whole thing on videotape. The tape then airs on . . . CNN and the excitement goes all the way up the chain. Everyone goes berserk with the story, the locals go nus, because the Marines murdered some innocent dudes and start rioting. Oh, by the way, CNN happens to video all this as well.

Pinko faggots in Berkley start protesting the war using this event as a catalyst. The story builds momentum and college kids and soccer moms across the nation You Tune the shit and jump on board. Generals make blurred statements not demonizing the Marine, but not protecting him either. The President at the strategic level sees this shit storm and fears he won't get re-elected because of it all; this causes him to pull all of the troops out of Iraq. Basically, butterfly flaps his wings in Ramadi, Iraq you get a shit storm in D.C.'" (Pages 89-90)

In another poignant scene, Larson demonstrates some of the immediate emotional impact of combat in an environment when an IED explosion could rip apart a day and the lives of dozens of Marines or soldiers or innocent bystanders.

"'So, you don't feel bad about it at all?' questioned Rogue. 'You shot a pregnant lady.'

'Well, I honestly feel we did our best. It is an unfortunate situation.'

He his his emotions. The three lieutenants sat in silence. Cash shook the thoughts of the ambulance out of his head. I was almost killed by that IED blast.

He looked down at the cubed eggs and freezer-burned hash browns. which were cold from sitting untouched for forty minutes. He realized he failed to eat a single thing in two days, his remorse changed to hunger. He was starving as he thought about his near-death experience. He looked at the cold eggs and his mouth salivated. For the first time in their deployment, despite the complications, he felt like they had made some progress. We did it! We kept the polling center open.

Before he took the first bite, a story that his father once told him flashed into his head. A man that almost died while climbing Mount Hood in an Oregon winter storm years ago, told his father the morning after the event, he ate his best meal of his life. The climber told Cash's father that if he had captured the ingredient of that meal, he could have made millions by serving it in a restaurant. His entire life he never recaptured the ingredient.

'The ingredient,' said Cash's father, 'is the experience of near death.'

Cash took the first bite of the cold eggs and then enjoyed the best meal of his life."
(Pages 96-97)

Larson, who clearly loves the Marines Corps while holding a realistic view of its deficiencies, writes movingly about love for the Corps:

"Heath looked at the naive lieutenant debating whether or not to tell him the truth.

'Do you love the Marine Corps?'

Cash thought about all of the Marines in his platoon and his squad leaders. He remembered his father pinning on his gold bars when he got commissioned. He thought about the other lieutenants.

'Yes, sir, I love the Marine Corps.'

'That's what I want to talk to you about Cash,' replied Heath. 'How many times have you called your wife since we've been over here?'

Cash took a deep breath, he thought about Jill all the time, and wanted to call her every day. In Iraq five months had passed and he had only called five times. He did not answer the question.

'You see, I know we're busy and the shit we're doing is important. Hell, if you don't give everything you have to fight, your Marines might pay the price. I know you know this and I see you give everything you have to the Marines.'

Cash looked down at the ground.

'The problem with loving the Marine Corps is this. It will chew you up and spit you out, no matter how hard you work.'

The lieutenant looked up at Heath.

'Cash, the Marine Corps is only in love with one thing and that's the Constitution. It does not matter if you are a good man, the Marines Corps will not love you.'" (Pages 123-124)

Finally, Larson makes a compelling case for the extraordinary level of responsibility that as been pushed down to the level of privates, lance corporals and platoon leaders.

"'Sir, this is a new war,' said Rogue. 'I trained to shoot, move, and communicate and here I am practically the mayor of the Thaylet.'

'Do you know what DIME stands for?' asked Breedlove.

'No,' replied the two lieutenants.

'DIME means Diplomacy, Intelligence, Military and Economics,' said Breedlove. 'This is essentially our foreign policy approach. You gentlemen are conducting foreign policy at the company; the decisions you are making at your level were reserved for colonels and generals when I was in the Army.' (Page 231)

Larson has done a wonderful job bringing us behind the scenes and into the heart and mind of the Marines serving in Ramadi.

I expect this book to develop a broad readership.



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