Monday, August 16, 2010

Joker One

Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and BrotherhoodI generally don't read books about current events, preferring histories that are truly in the past where the facts are mostly settled and the emotions aren't so raw. But a friend had recommended Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by Marine Lieutenant Donovan Campbell and - needing something a little different - I decided to give it a try. I half expected a story full of excessively gory violence and taking a stand one way or the other on the Iraq War, but was surprised with the restraint shown.

Donovan Campbell and his platoon known as Joker One served in Ramadi in 2004 during one of the worst insurgent uprisings. He discusses his desires as a commander to honorably serve both his country and his men, and as they replaced the US Army they went in with the purpose of trying to befriend the Iraqi people. In their foot patrols they made an effort to smile and wave at the locals, and continually put their own safety second to prove they weren't there to dominate the citizens. Unfortunately, their kindness was perceived as weakness and they increasingly came under attack by insurgents. Added to their problems were a lack of support from the local government and the people as well as necessary intelligence. By the time they were rotated out nearly all had received combat injuries but surprisingly only one man had been killed. They had also dropped their naive hopefulness and had become battle-hardened and efficient in doing their duty.

This isn't written in beautiful and flowery prose but rather the language you expect from a soldier. At times he overuses certain words and occasionally sounds rather awkward. The men in his platoon aren't angels - they have a penchant for profanity, pornography, and tattoos - but they're the kind of guys you'd be proud to have defending your freedom. Campbell is straightforward and honest in his own mistakes and regularly second-guesses his decisions, but tries to present the qualities of leadership he's learned in urgent life-and-death situations. But the part that most shines through is the love and respect he has for his men, for their willingness to risk their lives for others, whether it's their fellow Marines or the Iraqi people. He doesn't moralize or try to analyze the war, he's not trying to influence any opinions, he's just describing the experiences of his men as he saw them. And it sounds like a pretty honest and sincere reflection to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment