Book Review: Kaboom – by Matthew Gallagher

Have you ever been to Mexico?” Caption Whiteback asked me over the mild roar of the vehicle’s engine. I nooded. “Iraq is kinda of like that, but with bombs.”

Recently I have read two books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell told the story of a Navy SEAL and his experiences in Afghanistan. Where Men Win Glory by Jan Krakauer is an accounting of the life and eventual death of NFL star turned soldier Pat Tillman. Both books did an excellent job putting me into the war, the conflicts, the battles and the immense pain and suffering that war inevitably causes.

Matt Gallagher tells the story of his deployment in Iraq with such vivid clarity that Iraq becomes real in front of my eyes. He puts a spotlight on the hopelessness of the conflict itself. He illustrates the endemic dysfunction of the military establishment. Life of an Army platoon in Iraq is filled with hours, days, weeks and months of utter boredom, broken up by occasional hours of frustration over what we are doing to that country and its citizens, jarred by minutes of sheer terror, always unpredictable, and topped off with grief and despair when something goes badly wrong.

On September 11, 2001, Gallagher, in his college dorm room, slept through the entire attack and the fall of the towers. He eventually became an officer in the Army and was put in command of a scout platoon in Iraq, leading men with years more experience and several combat deployments. He tells the story from the viewpoint of a junior officer, with insight into some of the decision-making, but always out front with his men where the bullets  fly and deadly ghosts lurk behind every shadow.

Gallagher keeps inserting his feelings about Iraq and its people. Here is a sample of his writing:

And the kids. And the kids. The ones with eyes like black pools of sorrow. They didn’t even know what they didn’t have, but they did know they didn’t have it.

Like a lizard and its tail. One can either kill the lizard or take the tail, but only the fools and the clowns don’t realize the tail will grow back. That’s how it was for America and Iraq. We wanted to slice off the chaos tail without smashing the lizard’s head, hoping a democracy tail would grow in the meantime. We learned firsthand that wasn’t how lizards or their tails worked.

This is the best book about the war in Iraq that I have read so far. I feel like I have been there and I know what it is like. I am left with the enormity of the mistake made by Bush when he led our country into this unwinnable war. Hannity does not know what he is talking about. Olbermann does not know. Palin does not have a clue. Rove makes me sick. Listen to the many thousands of soldiers that were there. They know. Matt Gallagher was there for fifteen months. He knows. And in Kaboom he tells us about it with candor, clarity and wisdom.

Rating: ***

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