Subtitle: "A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" [PTSD]
Definition: Soft spot: stepping on (or in, as Van Winkle did) the remains of a fellow Marine.
Published just eight days ago, this book is a sad, sad testament to the Iraq "war" and the effect it is having on way too many returning veterans. Van Winkle, with a Masters degree in creative writing, has written a tight horror story in a mere 213 pages—not one extraneous word, no soapboxing about the reasons for the "war" (other than "murky"), and definitely no James Frey-type chest-pounding bullshit.
Van Winkle, an active-duty Marine at the time, was deployed to Iraq on Valentine's Day, 2003 (over six years ago), very close to the beginning of the "war." His mission: to follow the battle plan and uphold the integrity of the Marine Corp.
The problem is, there was no battle plan. There were no terrorists yet, no homicide (screw suicide) bombers, and no IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, like roadside bombs). The fighting was with Saddam's loyalist fedayeen and, because they looked like any other Iraqi, there were thousands of civilian casualties—including a ten-year-old girl Van Winkle thinks he blew away.
And therein lies the PTSD part. Once home again, Van Winkle struggled with living a normal life and memories of battle. The story segues back and forth between the two, which the favored "expert" ARC reviewers on Amazon.com found confusing.
But that is the very nature of PTSD: the inability to distinguish reality from nightmare, as well as the veracity of the nightmare itself. The transitioning was not a literary device, as some reviewers suggested. These memories strike at any time any place, and Van Winkle drank heavily because the memories, the anger, and the hypervigilance stopped when he was drunk.
When Van Winkle sought help at the Phoenix V.A. hospital he was diagnosed with PTSD by a nurse, given a script for an antidepressant, and sent on his way. Period. A few weeks later, he was seen by a psychiatrist at the same clinic, given a script for an antidepressant, and sent on his way. Period. "It is all well and good to stick a 'Support Our Troops' magnet on your car," he says, "but the people who should be supporting me, the Veterans' Administration, is doing nothing."
This book made me extremely angry. And it should make every one of you angry as well if you choose to read it. It is graphic and profane, but in the safety of your reading chair it is probably 1/1000th of the real thing. And that is the sad, sad part: "supporting our troops" has taken a backseat to our personal economic problems and comfort.
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If there is any good news about Iraq it is the announce-ment that the remaining 4,000 troops from the U.K. will be leaving by August of this year.