The Aftermath of War

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Last year I was bowled over by the emotional force of David Finkel’s The Good Soliders, a work of nonfiction journalism in which he writes about the time he spent embedded with the US 2-16 Infantry Battalion, on front line duty in Iraq. I wrote about it here …

In Thank You For Your Service, he follows some of those soldiers back from Iraq to an America that seems, to many of them after what they have experienced, to be a baffling, often uncharitable place; a place filled, for them, with memories and nightmares that no regimen of pills, however powerful, can set properly  to rights, and where suicide has overtaken enemy fire as the biggest killer of army personnel. These are men who have been at the heart of a maelstrom of fear and violence and who are now struggling to reattach themselves to wives, children, families, ordinary lives; some – many of those here – do so with the aid of programmes of therapy and readjustment, some virtually alone.

Again and again, Finkel strips back situations in which couples fight, make up, fight, make up, fight some more, break up, get help, come back, walk away. Where women – young widows, wives – stumble, dazed and often close to the poverty line, from one seeming catastrophe to another. Where men are told, go back there in your mind, remember, work through it, write it down. Come to terms.

This is not a book without generosity and hope: the respect Finkel shows for those he writes about is, I think, absolute. But it is unflinching and hard to take in other than small doses, and I was ever grateful for the opportunity to mark the page and set the book aside, get up, get a little air. Thankful, yes, for what you’ve got.

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