"However, it’s hard to try to explain random, mundane death and wounding to unblooded college-age Marines, because— like having a child— some things you just have to experience to fully understand. Few people, especially at that age, truly comprehend the idea that tomorrow is by no means certain— they usually have to see a few tomorrows forcefully and tragically taken away before they understand the gift of time."
"Being a good leader and being a hero, I was beginning to realize, were not at all the same thing."
"Right then I didn’t know how to tell the captain that the decision to kill that Iraqi didn’t feel either right or wrong when I made it. It just felt hard either way, and the understanding now that the man was a known bad character still didn’t really change my choice, its weight, or my feelings about it. It seemed a waste of time to try to explain that sometimes, on the front lines, there are no great options, just bad ones and worse ones, so you do what you can in the knowledge that you’re dealing life and death no matter which way the decision swings."
Book: Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, & Brotherhood
Author: Donovan Campbell
Published: Random House Trade Paperback (2009)
My Review: Way to start off the year with something light, Sarah. Nothing more comforting and hopeful to ring in the new year than a memoir about war and violent, bloody death, right? Luckily, January 3rd feels not so different than December 31st in my world, so all this morbid seems par for the course.
Without fail, the first thing that always boggles my mind in reading books like this is how incredibly, insanely, ridiculously young our soldiers are. Most of them are fresh out of high school; innocent(ish), baby-faced, and stupidly fearless. Even the leaders and higher-ups are generally in the 24 and 25 year old range (you know, that time in life when the human brain is STILL FINISHING DEVELOPMENT). It never seems to take too long for reality to sink in, but the long-term mental and physical consequences of battle seem a terrible price to pay for naivete.
I can’t help but think that whatever sinister person invented all of this nonsense knew that there would be a whole lot less fighting if you tried to convince 40-and-50-somethings to pick up a gun, strap on some Kevlar, and take to the battlefield. War requires youth. And the youth it doesn’t exterminate, becomes instantaneously old.
The other piece that never fails to surprise and anger is the utter lack of communication and understanding between the different hierarchical levels of the military. Not a few soldiers have lost their lives needlessly because the Commander of the Captain of the Lieutenant of the Squad Leader (or however that goes) has absolutely no fucking idea what is actually happening on the ground and cannot pull his/her shit together for five seconds in order to a) make an informed decision, or b) lacking enough information to make said informed decision, relinquish decision-making power to the person who is ACTUALLY IN THE SITUATION.
Those observations aside, the most profound thing that struck me about Joker One was that the true point of the book was less about fighting and more about love and loyalty and what it means to lead. Of course there were blood-and-guts moments and plenty of tactic-talk, but Campbell’s struggles throughout the story were more fundamental: what it means and what it takes to be a good leader, what love and loyalty really are, and what humanity looks like underneath the ugliness and brutality of war.
Good writing, important story. Maybe not such a bad way to kick off 2014, eh?