May 26th, 2008

summer reading

(no subject)

Here's a typical example of how I choose books...

Some months ago I was at Powell's for a book signing. Before it got started, I went by the history/war/espionage section to see if there was anything that looked particularly interesting. There was a book called Generation Kill featured with a note by a Powell's employee that spoke to why someone would want to buy it. It grabbed my interest and I picked it up as a possibility. Then I went by the literature section and found an Evelyn Waugh book I'd never read (or even seen) before. When making my final choices, I picked the Waugh to take home that night.

One night while flipping channels, I saw that HBO is doing a series from Generation Kill. I thought to myself, "Oh, I'd better read the book before I see the series because I probably won't want to read it after I see it."

So when I was back at Powell's for another book signing earlier in May, I made sure to buy it. I highly recommend it. It's the story from a journalist embedded with Marines of the First Recon unit for the first month or so of the current war in Iraq. It's quite amazing how one can see that pretty much all of the current situation is traceable back to the very start of the war and rooted in the complete lack of planning for anything beyond invading the country. The soldiers have no training in the language and very little knowledge of the culture (they are dependent upon someone from Kuwait to act as a translator and it seems pretty clear the translator leaves a lot out when doing that job). They aren't told the purpose of what they are doing. There are moments when extraordinarily idiotic commands from above put many lives in jeopardy. It's compulsively readable. Evan Wright has an ability to sketch personalities by using a person's words of self-description coupled with his own observations to such an extent that at times you don't even need to be told who did or said what - you can guess based on past information and acts.

One side benefit of reading books like this is that it puts my job into perspective. As stressful as some days might be, at least I'm not being ordered to do things that are both against the standing company-wide orders that everyone knows and against even the barest understanding of common sense and safety. (It's the military version of The Dilbert Principle in action, with the obvious exception of the ability to do damage.)

HBO rarely lets me down when it comes to the series they sponsor (it's still a big mystery to me why they don't dedicate one of their channels to re-showing their own programming) and I'm quite looking forward to seeing the series now. It will be interesting to see if that wider exposure to this story will do anything as respects conversation about Iraq. From my point of view, it was very sad and frustrating to realize that this was a story from the first month of the war and five years later the situation is no better - in fact, arguably it's far worse - than at that first month. And so much of the mess could have been prevented had the administration put some effort into learning some facts about what they were getting into before the invasion began. Amazing.