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Somebody once said that war consists of long stretches of utter boredom punctuated with moments of sheer terror. John Crawford's engaging and haunting memoir is a testament to the truth of that adage. Here he is on what it feels like to patrol the streets of Baghdad:

"We were riding a crest of hatred two thousand years old in a storm that no one who hasn't experienced it can understand. We knew what an AK-47 bullet sounds like when it zips unseen by our heads. We had heard the deafening blast of 155-millimeter rounds exploding near us. We knew the screams of the wounded and dying, and had seen the tears of men, of soldiers. I watched as we de-evolved into animals, and all this time there as a sinking feeling that we were changing from hunter to hunted." (p. 119)

Specialist Crawford's memoir is also a testament to the waste of war, the stupidity of war and in particular the stupidity of the Bush administration's harebrained invasion and occupation of Iraq. Guess what a good chunk of Crawford's time was spent doing. Guarding a gas station in Baghdad. Irony? Yes, and guess how he felt about the "hajjis" and how they felt about him.

Don't bother. He got no flowers handed out to him by the "liberated." This wasn't the Champes Elysees in 1944. The boys didn't shout and the girls didn't turn out. And when Johnny did come marching home again there were no victory parades. In fact, it appears that Crawford's young bride told him that "things would have been better off if...[he] had just never come home." Despondent and alone, Crawford writes, "In reality, I agree with her." (p. 219)

The blinding sandstorms, the 130-degree heat in full combat gear, the filth and stench, the constant fear of being targeted by a sniper or blown up by an IED, the hatred in the eyes of the Iraqi people, the substandard, "Vietnam era" equipment, the incompetent leadership, the sheer lack of discernable purpose--all of this and more is what gnawed at Crawford's soul as he and his buddies from the Florida National Guard did their time for God and country--well, for something.

Why does this seem like Vietnam all over again? Crawford writes, "We were both proud and ashamed of what we were. The stepchildren of the army, infantrymen are like guard dogs at a rich man's house. When people come to visit, the media, the USO, they lock us in the garage and tell us not to bark, but when night falls and there is a noise outside, everyone is glad we're there." (p. 65)

Crawford lets us see the Iraqi people as he saw them on the streets, in the shops: the little kids begging and crawling on him, the diseased refuges with their gaunt, desperate faces, the girls with their flirty eyes, the men with their consummate hatred, the landscape of poverty and desolation, of excrement in the streets and the blinding sun. He writes:

"Occasionally, a young woman would pass by in her school-girl uniform and dare a slight smile, prompting catcalls. Most times they enjoyed the attention and would wink back or smile broadly, as long as there weren't any men near them. The language of sex is the same in every country." (p. 88)

So this is a young man's view of war. It is somehow a lyrical tale, strung out in vignettes of color, short stories about his buds and the hajjis, preciously written in a style both ordinary and poetic. I think Crawford had a splendid editor. I also think he is a talented writer. This is a good and disturbing read.

And I think he got it right. It WILL be like Vietnam all over again. It already is. Eventually the troops will come home, another thousand or so dead, another ten thousand maimed and wounded, screwed up for life; and then the Iraqis will get back to doing what they do, which I guess is killing each other until somebody's in charge, and everything will be just as it would have been if we had left yesterday or the day before--or never arrived.
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HALL OF FAMEon 10 January 2006
John Crawford's story might be something out of Hollywood (indeed, with the new FX series, `Over There', now playing, Crawford's story seems almost as if it had been lifted for that drama). Crawford is like many others - he joined the National Guard for college money, not to go abroad and fight a war (whatever happened to the days when the National Guard stayed at home? but I digress...) He was nearing graduation, newly married, and suddenly thrust into the middle of a war that was controversial at the start, and increasingly unpopular at home as it dragged on.
Crawford spent three years in the 101st Airborne division, and then enlisted in the National Guard as he entered college, primarily for the tuition assistance. In Fall 2002, he was activated and had to go. Like many, his expectation of a short tour of duty was frustrated - the promise of `three months, six at most' turned into more than a year abroad.
Crawford's tales are riveting and engrossing. Like many men and women abroad in the conflict, he had varying access to email and internet facilities, and was encouraged by an embedded journalist to submit his tales (those of his own experience, and his writing on the experiences of others who were also around him at the time) to places around the country.
Some stories are now familiar to people in the States - problems with equipment, problems with personnel, problems with understanding their role vis-à-vis the locals. Crawford says that his unit was so underequipped that they even had to get vehicles from other units; at one point, they had a confiscated SUV from which they'd knocked the doors out, and mounted a machine gun on it. Not military issue at all. Their flak jackets were Vietnam-era technology, and their rifles were decades old. He also talks of the scavenging and improvising that took place, including digging through landfills for spare parts. Crawford even said that the only way to get replacement uniforms and boots was to order them online - soldiers then had to pay for these themselves, unreimbursed. Tough conditions, indeed.
Through it all Crawford insists that he and his unit were good soldiers who were going to do their duty no matter what, even if they did feel at times like the poor step-child that nobody cared about.
`Imagine a war in which you can call home at the end of the day,' Crawford says - he'd call his wife at home after a hard day; she'd talk about cleaning up dog doo in the house, and he'd talk about cleaning up dismembered people on the street. During the major operation of the war, there was no easy communication, but during the occupation time, it was much more available. Crawford sees this as a mixed blessing - instead of keep concentration focused, often soldiers would be worrying about things at home, and that could present a problem. It would also reinforce just how far away home really was.
Crawford also writes about drug use - some were into steroids (he describes a few `roid-rage' incident times), and some were onto antidepressants or valium. These were readily available from pharmacies. Crawford's own use included valium and sleeping pills, to make sure that when he was supposed to sleep, he could.
Part of this was written while he was in country in Iraq and Kuwait, and it was finished when he returned to the United States. It is an important read, and fills in many of the gaps that one gets in coverage of the war from media outlets, both factual and fictitious.
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on 27 January 2008
John Crawford should be the poster boy for the discarded many. In this baring of his soul, he describes the way that the Soldiers are used and abused then happily discarded as a cost of doing business in Iraq! This master piece displays how the soldiers fights to stay sane, whilst fighting the insanity of the position in which they have been dumped in. The small things that make life a little bareable day to day, his buddies did, while knowing that his bosses were chasing medals at the expense of their lives in the sand box!
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on 9 May 2007
This book could easily be to the iraq war what chickenhawk was to vietnam. An oustanding book that i found hard to put down (although the cover did attract some glares when reading it on the london underground). I would certainly read more of Crawford's work regardless of subject, he has an excellent narrative. If you want to see the war through the eyes and ears of the infantry man at the coal face, then this is for you.
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on 9 January 2013
Moving showing of the travesty and ignorance and deceit of those who like. Blair knowing nothing went to war and how it translated to. Soldier on ground in travesty of killing and being unwanted in another country for no reason . Very well written by obviously talented writer when stopped illegally killing as American habit
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on 21 July 2009
Bought whilst on holiday in the USA, I had just finished Sniper One and wanted something similar. This book did deliver a gripping read and a good account of what this action must have been like. The difference in approach between the British and American approach to warfare was very clear. I would urge readers to look at Sniper one before reading this book as a comprison makes good food for thought. Should you buy this book... if you want an action packed read with a well constructed story and the odd chuckle, then buy this book.
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HALL OF FAMEon 6 January 2006
John Crawford's story might be something out of Hollywood (indeed, with the new FX series, `Over There', now playing, Crawford's story seems almost as if it had been lifted for that drama). Crawford is like many others - he joined the National Guard for college money, not to go abroad and fight a war (whatever happened to the days when the National Guard stayed at home? but I digress...) He was nearing graduation, newly married, and suddenly thrust into the middle of a war that was controversial at the start, and increasingly unpopular at home as it dragged on.
Crawford spent three years in the 101st Airborne division, and then enlisted in the National Guard as he entered college, primarily for the tuition assistance. In Fall 2002, he was activated and had to go. Like many, his expectation of a short tour of duty was frustrated - the promise of `three months, six at most' turned into more than a year abroad.
Crawford's tales are riveting and engrossing. Like many men and women abroad in the conflict, he had varying access to email and internet facilities, and was encouraged by an embedded journalist to submit his tales (those of his own experience, and his writing on the experiences of others who were also around him at the time) to places around the country.
Some stories are now familiar to people in the States - problems with equipment, problems with personnel, problems with understanding their role vis-à-vis the locals. Crawford says that his unit was so underequipped that they even had to get vehicles from other units; at one point, they had a confiscated SUV from which they'd knocked the doors out, and mounted a machine gun on it. Not military issue at all. Their flak jackets were Vietnam-era technology, and their rifles were decades old. He also talks of the scavenging and improvising that took place, including digging through landfills for spare parts. Crawford even said that the only way to get replacement uniforms and boots was to order them online - soldiers then had to pay for these themselves, unreimbursed. Tough conditions, indeed.
Through it all Crawford insists that he and his unit were good soldiers who were going to do their duty no matter what, even if they did feel at times like the poor step-child that nobody cared about.
`Imagine a war in which you can call home at the end of the day,' Crawford says - he'd call his wife at home after a hard day; she'd talk about cleaning up dog doo in the house, and he'd talk about cleaning up dismembered people on the street. During the major operation of the war, there was no easy communication, but during the occupation time, it was much more available. Crawford sees this as a mixed blessing - instead of keep concentration focused, often soldiers would be worrying about things at home, and that could present a problem. It would also reinforce just how far away home really was.
Crawford also writes about drug use - some were into steroids (he describes a few `roid-rage' incident times), and some were onto antidepressants or valium. These were readily available from pharmacies. Crawford's own use included valium and sleeping pills, to make sure that when he was supposed to sleep, he could.
Part of this was written while he was in country in Iraq and Kuwait, and it was finished when he returned to the United States. It is an important read, and fills in many of the gaps that one gets in coverage of the war from media outlets, both factual and fictitious.
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on 26 February 2015
Just didn't set the heather on fire for me
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