Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review from the March issue of Leatherneck Magazine

Victory in Iraq: How America Won.
By Hon. Duncan L. Hunter. Published by Duncan L. Hunter, 2010. 393 pages.

I suspect that most military readers will feel a bit unsettled, as I did, when they start reading Victory in Iraq. Then the reason hits you: this guy is on our side! The author believes in America and America’s cause, and reveres the men and women who serve our Republic in uniform. He feels no need to, in the modern “journalist’s ethic,” be neutral between the child and the virus that is trying to kill it. For someone who spends a lot of hours keeping up with news, commentary and reports on current events, it’s exhilarating.

Victory in Iraq focuses heavily on the struggle that developed after the fall of Baghdad, which is good, as the initial invasion has been well chronicled by other writers. This is history on four levels. It deals with the strategic and tactical levels, but also has a strong focus on the guys stacked outside a Fallujah door, ready to kick it in and deal with what follows. Military readers and their families will appreciate how often and reverently Duncan focuses on the individual heroism of our combat troops and their deeds. These are stories military readers will appreciate, but they are stories that civilian readers, fed a steady diet of negativity by a media determined to downplay American success and magnify American setbacks, need desperately to hear. This book should help overshadow the few, highly-magnified alleged misdeeds of our troops in the public’s mind.

The forth level of Victory in Iraq is the political war at home, where what in the 1860s would have been called “copperhead” politicians and their media supporters were willing to undermine victory and denigrate the troops to score political points. So make no mistake, this is as much a political history of the war as a military history by a writer who was in the thick of the political action. A WWII buff once told me that he was interested “in the war-fighting, not the politics” of that conflict. I replied that all wars are political, and you cannot separate the two. Then-Representative Hunter, as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from 2003 to 2007 and with a son who was a serving Marine officer in Iraq had both a strong, pro-military point of view and unique access to leaders and to information about the struggle there and in Washington.

There are lessons to be learned in Hunter’s book, especially about the successful Task Force ODIN to eliminate IEDs, which, “…saw roadside bombs diminished by 90%.” And which “…killed an astonishing 3,000 insurgents, most caught in the act of emplacing roadside bombs.” (p287) Hunter reports that as of his writing, it had not been replicated in Afghanistan.

The inclusion of numerous pictures adds greatly to the interest of the text. Marines, however, will find poignant the photo of Karen Kelly, wife of Lt. General John Kelly, along with her son, Marine Captain John Kelly, pinning lieutenant’s bars on her other son Robert. Lt. Robert Kelly was KIA in Afghanistan about the time this book went to press.

Military readers may find a bit tedious both the explanations of common military terms and the reiteration of key points as the focus shifts between levels and tactical areas. But they are necessary for clarity for the civilian reader who is familiar with Iraq and the military only from the news-as-entertainment industry.

One note of caution. I recommend this book, especially for your interested-but-less-aware civilian friends, but I hope that politics will not make the title a bitter joke. As a Vietnam veteran, I’m keenly aware that a book entitled Victory in Vietnam: How America Won might have been justifiably published in 1972, had there been potential readers. Let us hope that Congressman Hunter’s title will endure, and the sacrifices of our troops will not be made moot for short term political advantage, to the detriment of the nation.

I’ve heard from people who should know that, had McCain prevailed in 2008, Duncan Hunter would have been on the short list for Secretary of Defense. I hope this book is not his last service to the Republic.

--Robert A. Hall

Editor’s note: Former SSgt Robert A. Hall served with HQ, 26th Marines, at Khe Sanh in 1967, noting that, “It was quiet when I left—I don’t know what happened.” Immediately after earning a BA in Government from UMass in 1972, he served five terms in the Massachusetts state senate, as well as another six years in the USMCR. In 1980, he earned a Master’s degree in history from Fitchburg State University. Since 1982, Hall has been an association executive. He’s a frequent contributor of poetry to Leatherneck. In 2011, he published two books:  The Coming Collapse of the American Republic and Old Jarhead Poems. He donates all royalties from both books to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. 

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