Mar 17, 2014
Author David Finkel spent eight months with an Army unit in Iraq for his first book, The Good Soldier, and this book follows the same soldiers once they have returned home. For many soldiers, the “after-war” that Finkel describes is just as chilling as the war itself.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created 500,000 “mentally wounded” U.S. soldiers, and this book tells the stories of a handful of them. The main character, Adam Schumann, is suffering from extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and crippling guilt. When he first comes home, his wife vows to have “infinite patience” with him. But as financial problems mount, and after Adam accidentally drops their baby son and puts a shotgun in his mouth threatening suicide during one of their many fights, she descends into despair herself. She is alternately stricken with guilt for letting down her husband and with anger at him for letting down their family.
In fact, the Schumanns deal relatively well with the “after-war” compared to some other soldiers in Adam’s unit. A number of soldiers commit suicide, one of whom cannot get past the images of a little girl he thinks he shot. One severely wounded and lonely soldier, missing limbs, tries to find a date on the internet. He gets just one reply, from a woman who writes only “Thank you for your service.” Another of Schumann’s friends in the army and another “good soldier” is assigned to a special unit for mentally wounded soldiers. He tries to rejoin his military unit despite suffering from such severe mental illness that he almost kills his wife.
Almost all of the soldiers in the book come from working class backgrounds, and so the book shows one of the prices the U.S. working class pays for this country’s imperialist wars to dominate the world.