By Paul Rieckhoff for Bookish
As the last American troops come home from Iraq, Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, shares his five favorite books on the lives and sacrifices of soldiers -- books that have shaped his life as an Army officer, as the founder of IAVA, and as an American citizen.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway captures the brutality and horrors of the Spanish Civil War through the experiences of an American volunteer tasked with blowing up a bridge. As the natural beauty of Spain is ravaged by both the Fascists and the Republicans, the protagonist, Robert Jordan, finds purpose in what he can himself control and searches for just cause in an unjust world. I know I’m not the only vet who found guidance in that wisdom.
"Band of Brothers" by Stephen Ambrose
The television series is good. The book is better. The camaraderie small military units develop with one another is tough to explain to people who haven’t served, but Ambrose’s nonfiction account of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the fabled 101st Airborne Division in World War II, does it justice. It begins with Easy Company training for war and learning how to jump out of planes in Georgia, and follows them through the Normandy invasion, the siege of Bastogne, and the end of the war at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. This is history and war writing at its best.
"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller
This novel is comic genius. Heller’s story of Yossarian, a U.S. Army bombardier during World War II, tells of the conflict that arises when an individual runs up against the beast that is military bureaucracy. Heller spent nearly two decades writing this iconic, once-in-a-generation book, and it shows -- every sentence, every word, has specific function and reason. In this dark humored take on the purpose of war, Yossarian is convinced that everyone else is trying to kill him, either by attacking his plane or by forcing him to fly missions.
"You Know When the Men Are Gone" by Siobhan Fallon
Most war books chronicle events on the battlefront, but this collection of short stories describes life on the homefront when husbands and fathers deploy from Fort Hood, Texas, for Iraq. The daily struggles of the families left behind are too often overlooked and forgotten, which is part of the reason this book is so important. The other part is the writing itself, which is strong and crisp. Fallon, an army wife herself, brings to light the hidden damages of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, from destroyed limbs to ruined bank accounts to broken families.
"One Bullet Away" by Nate Fick
Many readers first became familiar with Fick in Evan Wright’s "Generation Kill." Fick was portrayed as the loyal, dutiful platoon leader who puts his men before his supervisor's orders Fick’s own book is less "rock ‘n’ roll" than Wright’s, but just as intriguing. It describes how Fick ended up becoming a Marine officer after studying Classics at Dartmouth, and provides his take on his platoon’s actions during the invasion of Iraq. Fick is now the CEO of the Center for a New American Security think tank in D.C.
Paul Rieckhoff is the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the author of "Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America From Baghdad to Washington."
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