Sick of the Iraq war? Me too, but that won't stop the body count or stem the tide of new books by ex-soldiers. Reader fatigue—or TV eyeball strain—is understandable three years after the "Mission Accomplished" carrier landing. Yet think about the authors: Relieved to be home alive or (mostly) in one piece and pissed off about the situation in Baghdad (whether pro-war or against, no one would argue it's going well), they go to the trouble to write a book and find that we'd rather read Marley & Me. Having served 10 months in Iraq, Lt. Paul Rieckhoff—still active in the New York National Guard—shares all these mixed feelings about our continued presence there: "If we stay it will be bad; if we leave it will be bad." He writes sympathetically of troops and civilians alike. Imagine how you'd react if the door of your Ballard bungalow was battered down at 2 a.m., your entire family forced to kneel with twist ties on their wrists while foreign soldiers searched for a weapons cache that wasn't there, following bad information from a neighbor with a grudge against you? (You know, that crazy guy who thinks you stole his lawn mower.) "Sometimes I felt like I was a member of the Brown Shirts in Nazi Germany," admits Rieckhoff. The author went to war skeptical but patriotic, and he came back patriotic but convinced the public, politicians, and press are tiptoeing around the Iraq elephant in the room. Though he flirted with the Kerry campaign following his discharge, and gave a radio rebuttal to a presidential address on behalf of the Democrats, he claims to be disgusted with how both parties are treating the war. One got us in, the other won't get us out. Yet Ghosts is a book of complaints, not solutions. As founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA, formerly known as Operation Truth), he's taken his cause to the media—including Fox, where, no surprise, Sean Hannity tries to kneecap him. As Rieckhoff name-checks Anthony Swofford (Jarhead) and makes dozens of pop-culture and movie references, his book is not a persuasive work of geopolitical analysis or reporting (see The Fall of Baghdad or Cobra II for two recent, definitive accounts). Although he disturbingly compares the Sunni-Shia situation to our own antebellum South: The Sunnis are pissed that we liberated a sect they viewed as subhuman slaves. And how long has it taken us to work through that particular legacy? Oh, yeah, still with us. There are better Iraq war memoirs already, plus more in the pipeline, but each one adds to the collective damning shelf. And here's the first time I've seen the Al Qaeda crowd and jihadists compared to those nasty, furry critters that keep multiplying in Gremlins. Says Rieckhoff, "Right now we are making more enemies than we are killing in Iraq. It is like we're pouring water on Gizmo."
Paul Rieckhoff appears at University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 206-634-3400, www.bookstore.washington.edu. Free. 7 p.m. Wed., May 17.