Joker One by Donovan Campbell got a positive review today in the Sunday NYT Book Section for it's you-are-there verisimilitude in depicting the experiences of a Marine platoon in Ramadi, Iraq. Reviewer James Glanz, however, is frustrated by the book's failure to put those experiences into context. He writes:
The book, named for the platoon’s radio call sign, is ostensibly about a young lieutenant whose faith in God, the Marines and his own leadership is shaken, then restored, as his men are maimed and killed on the filthy streets of Ramadi. But it is really the story of a unit whose training, equipment and overall background left them supremely unready to face an Iraqi insurgency. The Marines may not have comprehended what they were up against, but of course they fought anyway.
Campbell himself never really comes to grips with how deplorably his beloved Marines were prepared for Ramadi....
We still don't know exactly what Glanz means by the Marines having been deplorably prepared. He goes on to cite some examples:
As the Marines landed in Kuwait and crossed the border to Iraq in March 2004, Campbell found that his unit’s seven-ton trucks had no armor, the radios did not work properly, and no translator would be provided for the dangerous overland trip to Ramadi.
OK. Logistics and materiel not sufficient. Is that what Glanz means? The review continues:
Almost immediately, Campbell sensed that something was wrong in the city he had been told was “on the glide path to success.” On an early patrol, the men of Joker One hand out candy and pencils to local children, who seem delighted: children are the same everywhere, he reflects. Then, after the Marines have handed out everything they have, the children begin showering them with rocks — large rocks. Incredibly, the unit still does not have a translator, so there is no way to find out why this is happening or even to tell the kids to stop.
At the base later on, still unnerved, Campbell begins to realize that something is seriously amiss in his understanding of the city he must patrol for seven months. He muses, “What kind of child tries repeatedly to stone someone who has just given them a present?”
Something seriously amiss in his understanding is right. Campbell doesn't understand, hasn't been introduced to, isn't even suppopsed to consider the milieu of Arabic-Islamic culture that from a very early age poisons even children against the infidel. Our military preparations, our military strategy, to this day fail to take into account the Islamic context of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan--an unconscionable failure of professional responsibility on the part of our civilian and military leadership. The reviewer simply writes;
Welcome to Ramadi, gents. Having been wrapped in a cocoon of ignorance by their pathetically insufficient training, Campbell’s Marines are left to deal with the consequences as the insurgency explodes on the crooked streets of one of the meanest and deadliest places on earth....
Near the beginning of his book, Campbell reflects that “it’s so hard to tell the truth, because the telling means dragging up painful memories, opening doors that you thought you had closed and revisiting a past you hoped you had put behind you.”
He never quite puts his finger on the meaning, if any, of the extraordinary violence that imbues the truths he tells in “Joker One.” But he has laid it all out for anyone else who wants to have a try.
I haven't a clue what Glanz in getting at. As for Campbell's book, I'm definitely planning to take a look at it and see how it deals with Islamic culture. I'm going to guess that it doesn't pay much if any attention to it at all.