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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 23 January 2010
Author Doug Beattie won a Military Cross for his actions described in this book, which take place in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006. You might therefore expect some ferocious combat in his book, An Ordinary Soldier and you certainly get that but also something else that is often missing from other military memoirs: emotional honesty.

Beattie lays himself open to the reader, describing his actions - sending men off to fight and sometimes die, calling in merciless air support to batter other people, shooting wounded soldiers and so forth - in describing these, he is highly self-critical: are these the right things to do? Are these actions comparable to the Nazis? Can I still retain my humanity? Am I the same person? This reflection is both honest, candid and laudable.

Another facet of Beattie's book that is commendable is how he describes the relationship betwixt the British forces and the Afghanis who choose to fight alongside them: passionate but disorganised, poor but generous; some he admires a great deal, others he cannot stand.

As with other books describing the war in Afghanistan, one wonders just what we are doing out there, what we are actually achieving at such a cost of lives, both Afghanis and British? Beattie seems to get bogged down in a series of firefights, attempting to dominate land, only then having to relinquish it; nothing but the spilling of much blood seems to be the end result. There are certainly no military victories, much less any "nation-building" to describe.

Doug Beattie's book, An Ordinary Soldier, will be familiar to readers of the genre in terms of the military aspects portrayed therein and as such does not sufficiently differentiate itself from other titles. Where he leaves his mark is in the arena of self-criticism, the candid and unflinching contemplation of his actions. Beattie makes evident that the British infantryman is no mindless automaton but one who is capable of retaining his humanity in the worst of conditions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2011
I recently bought this book, not simply because I have always appreciated true stories of courage and heroism in war, but also because a nephew of mine recently returned from Helmand province, after a six month tour of duty as a lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Quite simply, I wanted to gain some appreciation of what he may have experienced during his "tour."

The dust jacket of the book gives you a small idea of what to expect: a prone soldier in camouflage uniform is blazing away with a somewhat bizarely named GP ("General Purpose") machine gun; a cloud of smoke rises from an explosion in the distance: and a Chinook helicopter is lumbering away, doubtless removing one or more seriously injured casualities.

In some ways, this book is similar to others in the genre; eg, working class youth/young man joins up for adventure/escape unemployment/escape a life of crime, (or the consequences), etc. In common with other books (eg, "Hellfire" by Ed Macy (please see my other reviews)), it gives a brief account of the author's early life and career. Unlike some other war non fiction titles, the climactic action does not simply occupy a few pages; it starts at page 81, and reaches page 292 out of 301. However, there the resemblance ends, for this is a book which was not originally intended to make money for it's author or publishers. Rather, it was one soldier's private and personal attempt to cope, single handedly, with nightmarish, post traumatic stress consequent on deadly combat. Perhaps bizarely, in a 25 year military career spent in such places as Northern Ireland and Iraq, this was the first occasion when the author actually killed anyone in the course of his duties.

In its' bare essentials, Doug Beattie's book gives an account of a thirteen day period of action, during which he led a team of men, woefully inadequate in equipment and numbers, in their task of retaking the small Afghan town of Garmsir; a town which had been wrested from the contol of the Afghan National Police by Taliban insurgents.

Because the action is described first hand, by a British army captain who not only led his men, but killed his enemy hand to hand, at a distance with machine gun, rifle and grenades; and also vicariously, through directing mortar and bomb strikes, the reader is right there in the thick of the action. You can taste the dust, feel the heat and danger, and empathise with men who have to make split second decisions: keep firing at the enemy who are closing in on you, or stop firing, to call in desperately needed air support? As always, I am humbled by the bravery and professionalism of our armed forces under fire; amazed by their willingness to make do with less than adequate resources; and angered by the apparent glibness with which politicians commit our armed forces to danger far from home - sometimes on pretexts which are eminently reasonable to them, whilst remaining largely incomprehensible to the public at large. The book also disposes of the myth that all Afghan National Army/police personnel are lazy and/or treacherous; it gives full praise to men like Major Shahrukh of the Afghan National Police, who fought as bravely as any of the British, and who lost their lives just as tragically.

As has been commented on by other reviewers, author Doug Beattie is ruthlessly self critical of his actions, open and honest about the post traumatic stress he endured. His book destroys any cliches about soldiers being automatons, psychopaths, or adventurers; he makes it clear they are anything but a stereotypical group of people. The selection of 34 photographs, all but one in colour, are mostly of the main characters in the action; others show military equipment in use, some the Afghan people, and a few give a taste of the desolate landscape of Afghanistan.

It's certainly an inspiring book, but also hugely thought provoking; not least because our armed forces personally deal with the long term consequences of political decisions, made on your behalf and mine. Doug Beattie comments at least once that he was paid his salary to kill. I recall a recent conversation with a customer wearing a "Help for Heroes" badge. On learning that he came from Colchester in Essex, I said "Ah, you're a soldier!" To which he replied (with the intention to shock, I feel) "One of her Majestys' Hired Killers."

And here is the crux of the matter. We train men (and women) in our armed forces to kill, and destroy property; actions which under any other circumstances would be punishable with imprisonment, perhaps even death. If they succeed, especially against the odds, we applaud them, and rightly decorate them as heroes. If they fail, we are usually at least disappointed; in extreme cases, we may even label them cowards. It seems to me that only the psychopath is capable of killing without experiencing mental anguish and soul searching thereafter. So when a decent, honourable, family man like Doug Beattie lays his soul bare, I cannot help feeling that he is being far too hard on himself. British and American politicians, such as Blair and Bush, seem passionate about exporting western style democracies, to societies which in many respects are still medieval and tribal. In so doing, they conveniently forget that in both cases, our democracies took a civil war, and hundreds of years to develop. Nor can I help the feeling, that if they fully realised the consequences of ordering forces into battle, they would give the matter much greater consideration first. For this reason, Doug Beattie's book should be compulsory reading for politicians sending men and women to war.

Well worth reading.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2008
If I had to list my top ten war books this would be up there. Well written with well documented facts and accounts of fierce fighting that rate as one of the best ever written from this conflict. Certainly as good as Sniper one and eight lives down from the Iraq war this will find a place onto many book shelves to be read and reread.
Like so many war books this is not for the faint hearted.
I have just been told that Doug Beattie has cancelled his book signing date with waterstones in Colchester due to the numbers of soldiers coming back wounded and says he will show them some respect.
This should truly deserve our respect for them and for Doug.
Just for them....read this book. It will give all a true reflection of our boys, their commitment to the cause and why we should all respect that.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2008
Superb insider's account of life in the UK military inside Afghanistan that tells it how it is from a soldier's perspective - and ignore the modesty in the title - for truly this is no ordinary soldier but a heroic one. Written with a mature viewpoint that avoids cliche and sensationalism, this is a book that educates, informs, and brings home the reality of war in a way not often available in other media.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2010
As an Ex Soldier of 22 years I can totally understand what Doug is all about, for those who read his books will be in no doubt of the stress, strains of both married life and service demands put on you the soldier(serviceman) and their families. Mix this together with the opertional tasks given you to perform in clearly the most ridicluous constraints, of manpower, equipment, time etc you wonder why they do it. Soldiers make the most amazing friendships in their service time, that last a lifetimes, the common bond is not affected by class, colour, religion or education. Dougs book gives the 'civillians' a great understanding of what it means to be at the sharp end in no uncertain terms with the thoughts and concerns that soldiers are left to deal with afterwards.
A absolute must read for everyone..
Many thanks Doug.
Bob Scott (ex WO2)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2011
I should start off by saying that I am a pacifist and largely disagree with developed countries' "politics" towards the so-called non-developed world. Yes, I am one of those, and I make no apologies for that. And to be perfectly honest, I would never have dreamt of reading a book like this if it hadn't been recommended by a colleague of mine, simply because of my views and convictions.

Anyway, I got over my bias and thought I'd give it a try. The book is a well-written, open and honest account of a soldier's "everyday life" in a hell-like situation. It helped me understand where soldiers, though perhaps not all of them, are (literally) coming from, what they do, think, feel, worry about, look forward to while they are at war, and how they struggle to find their way back into normality when they get back. What I found particularly intriguing and distressing was how soldiers could have a simultaneous, or perhaps dichotomous, feeling of empathy towards the enemy, the other, in one moment, but be able to take that same human life in another. I guess to a certain, lesser extent that holds true for all of us.

Worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2009
I gave this book to my husband for holiday reading material, and he finished it in a few days (which is rather good actually). He said it was a good read, not normally the sort of thing he would go for (bio of a soldier), but said that it was really interesting and a page turner. Both of us really enjoyed the Ross Kemp doc on Afghanistan and this book seemed to continue in a similar vein (so possibly getting fans of the former to give this book a go in terms of marketing). Written in an interesting and gripping manner. Thank you for the book, I hope it gets the wider readership it deserves.
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on 19 March 2012
Doug Beatties's account of his life before and during his army career is the same life story of young men told UK wide, less off course his own predicament in Gramsir. I applaud his honesty in sharing with us his ordeal in Afghanistan, however before reading this account I had been very sceptical of it's content and how sensationalised his story may become for the general reader. I don't as a rule read books of this sort but was attracted to the title like a moth to a flame for I wanted to know what makes an ordinary soldier. Is Doug Beattie an ordinary soldier? I will leave the other readers to decide for themselves. Self criticism is often a recognition of ones minor failings in life and Doug has described his graphically and relentlessly, what struck me about Doug, in the heat of battle, was his self awareness and ability to summon his internal frame of reference at the drop of a hat, again the question is, is Doug an ordinary soldier?. Doug explains that he has criticised himself both during and after the actions but I can't help wondering why he alone wanted to take the fight to the Taliban on all of these occasions when he was there as an advisor, mentor and observer. Was Doug spoiling for a fight? I think so, would there be glory in it? hopefully. Did Doug see this as a last chance saloon before exiting the army for the relative normality of Civvie street for the grasp at leaving his mark in history? possibly. Doug put himself in Gramsir no-one else, he was not under orders to take the fight to the Taliban, but he did, he wasn't forced to return to Gramsir, but he did, no-one forced him to return to Afghanistan again, but he did, here lies the predicament when answering is Doug an ordinary soldier. For the actions he carried out in his situation in Gramsir I was amazed and immensely proud of the resolve, professionalism and courage he showed in these extreme circumstances and for that reason I think his award was well and truly deserved. My reservations remain as to the underlying reasons for his actions and where they logically valid given the fact that he was risking others lives and not just his own. Ordinary soldier? Are these the actions of an ordinary soldier, i'm not sure? An ordinary soldier faced with extremes will do whatever it takes to survive and is trained to do or ordered to do. Did he personally take this situation to the extreme? I will leave you to ponder these questions for yourself. The book was a great read though both credible and incredible. I wish Doug and his family a happy and long peaceful life. Best wishes
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Not quite the page turner I find some of these books. Nor is it quite as harrowing.
HOWEVER it is probably the first book I've read where a British Officer / Serving soldier who has seen combat actually questions the values we're fighting for.
In one particular case although Doug points out that the Taliban are brutal and represive and have littl regard for human rights he points out the case of the "Chai Boys" used by provincial and government officials. These are basically young boys as young as 5 being abused and used for sex by Kharzi's government. Yes the same one we are proping up with the lives of allied soldiers. He questions whether Paedophilia and the abuse of children is better than the scrict Sharia Law imposed by the Taliban. Homosexuality and other practices are common place amongst the Afphan ANP and ANA and again he questions the values of the regime we are trying to breathe life into.
It's an interesting book but lacks pace or excitment and to be honest elicits little in the way of emotion by the time you are finished the book. It's a shame as some of the description here and there is very good and visualisation of certain scenes was exceptional but there are a hit and miss affair. Worth a read if you feel you don't have a complete picture of what's going on. If you don't know about the relationship between ANA and ANP and ISAF then this may give a better insight.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2009
I could not put this book down His experiences at times were quite horrific as were the rest of his platoon. His display of bravery was oustanding although one had to smile at his honesty regarding his age compared with the rest of his men.it concerns me having read so many accounts of the conflict out in Afhganistan that a man of his seniority should have so much mistrust of the ANA and ANP.One has to question the reasoning for having our troops out there if he is to be believed.
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