"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

18 May 2010

Love in a Torn Land and Paradise General

Of the books I read last week, two stuck out for me. One was Love in a Torn Land: Joanna of Kurdistan: The True Story of a Freedom Fighter's Escape from Iraqi Vengeance by Jean Sasson. It tells the story of the life of Joanna, who grew up in Baghdad during the rise of Saddam. As she grew, so did the tensions in her country. She lived through the Iran/Iraq War and saw many of her relatives forever changed by conflict and torture. She narrowly dodged run-ins with Saddam's security forces, made harder as she embraced her Kurdish identity. As she grew into a woman, she fell in love with a Peshmerga, a Kurdish fighter. Their love took time to develop, but grew deep in the face of hardship as she gave up her relatively comfortable life in Baghdad to live as a fighter in the mountains. She survives chemical attacks and bombings, as well as the treacherous and rugged mountain living, before seeking asylum in England.

Her story is a beautiful one, despite her hardships. It is a tale of someone who is committed to her people and her belief that they should be free from the oppression of Saddam's government. It is also a rich love story that challenges perceptions of relationships in the Middle East. One is left with the impression that Joanna is a complete woman, who knows herself and what she wants in life. She accepts the life she chose, even when it is unpleasant. Hers is a story that should be told and remembered.

That was the book I was going to write about but another grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Paradise General: Riding the Surge at a Combat Hospital in Iraq by Dr. Dave Hnida is a window into the world of military medicine. I completed the book in two days and couldn't put it down. As a reservist who signed up in his late 40s when he heard the military needed doctors, he stumbles a bit with the soldier aspect of his soldier/doctor role. The book mostly covers his second deployment, where he is at a combat support hospital with a team of other doctors and medical personnel. As he shares his war stories, he is part Hawkeye from MASH and part Baghdad ER. It is a look into the lives of the doctors who must treat the horrific injuries that war creates. These experiences bond the men and women who work on our soldiers in a way few can understand. Do we realize what we ask of these doctors and medical personnel? Their dreams are filled with the moans and the wounds of soldiers young enough to be their children. They, along with medics and corpsmen in their twenties fight death all day, every day, but will inevitably lose some. They carry those losses with them forever. Dr. Hnida makes it clear that behind the professionalism, confidence, and calm veneer is an endless second guessing and self criticism after each case, with doctors wondering if they made the right calls.

Each chapter tells a distinct story from his deployment, yet he weaves them together into a smooth, cohesive whole. I particularly enjoyed the chapters "Dante's Infirmary," " Rebels with a Cause," "The Wounded Wore Aftershave," and "A Picture Worth a Thousand Tears."

Favorite passages:
"What about my penance? I felt a duty to those I had failed in the past--the kids of Columbine, my daughter Katie, my own family, and the memory of my father (68)."

"But when done...Jesus. You were forced to watch a mental rerun of your every move and decision, and your movie snack wasn't popcorn, instead an overflowing tub of adrenaline-soaked fear (164)."

"I knew people back home saw and heard about the deaths and the wounds, but a screen or in writing it was all sanitized and sterile. Just numbers...They didn't see, feel, or smell what a broken body is like up close and personal. And they didn't have to make the decisions we did. Save the arm? Save the leg? Save the soldier? (165)."

"We were wounded by what we did and what we saw. But no more than those we cared for. (165)."

"We were leaving the war, but the war couldn't care less. All we could do was feel guilty about leaving the twenty-year olds behind in a war that would not have a Hollywood ending. No war ever does (276)."

As the distance between us and the base continued to grow, we realized we would never really leave. We'd revisit this place often in the years to come, traveling back in sweat-soaked dreams on our darkest nights. I now knew what my father, what every other man and woman who has seen the horrors of war, knew: you may leave the war, but it never leaves you (276)."

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