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This book is destined to become the quintessential novel about the Iraq war as Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” has become the go-to book about the Viet Nam soldier experience.

Fives and Twenty-Fives - Michael Pitre

In much the same way as Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” has become the go-to book about the Viet Nam war experience, this one may become the go-to novel about the Iraq war. Each character is unique and brings with him stories which create real time experiences for the reader. The tale travels between the past and the present and tells the story of who they were when they entered the service and who they became when they departed. The reader will experience an array of emotions with the characters, they will do what they do, feel their reactions to their assignments, sometimes lacking reason or responsibility, touch their fear, their horror, their anger, their frustrations, their courage, their confusion, their successes and failures. The anecdotal tales and the conversations between characters will bring them to life and bring home the story of the Iraq war, and even other wars, where friends and family become enemies of each other, dedicated to opposite sides and causes, no longer able to communicate with each other as they once did, no longer sharing the same common goals. This war, however, is different, in its own way, and these are not infantrymen, but each and every one of them is damaged in some way by their service. Michael Pitre, served two terms in Iraq and his book seems to be written from the experience of his conscience. It is told from the point of view of three characters: Lieutenant Pete Donovan, a graduate of Officer Candidate School, Kateb al-Hariri, an interpreter from a well-to-do family in league with Saddam Hussein, and Hospitalman Lester Pleasant, a natural born medic, looking for opportunity outside the small town life of his childhood. Pete Donovan is the Lieutenant in charge of a platoon charged with the responsibility of filling potholes, following the rule of fives and twenty-fives when checking them for IED’s, securing the surrounding area to protect his soldiers and soldiers advancing toward them while they fill in the potholes to prevent them from being used again. The most important part of the job is to do it quickly because sitting in one place too long makes them all sitting ducks. Missing one will make the oncoming soldiers unwitting victims of the explosions. It was difficult to know exactly who was the enemy. They lurked quietly on roadsides, looked innocent, pretended ignorance, and yet they sneaked in at night and planted bombs under curbstones, in potholes, in cracks in the road, under trash, anyplace a bomb-like weapon could hide. Sometimes the explosion was the precursor of an ambush so they had to be very careful and attentive at all times. Although it does not sound like they were involved in ongoing battles, they were indeed involved in action and a form of combat. It is in the area of fives and twenty-fives that their lives were often lost. It was a harrowing endeavor to clear the area. Donovan is deeply effected by the hypocrisy and irresponsibility of those in charge, by their haphazard decisions which do not take safety into consideration at all, but simply are moved by the politics of war. Lester Pleasant is the medic in charge of taking care of the injured. He was born to the job, does it well and enjoys helping the soldiers to survive. When he witnesses the horrific, nightmarish injuries to men he could do nothing for, his life is forever changed. His job enables him to abuse drugs and he uses them to escape from the nightmares that often visit his sleep. Kateb al-Hariri, the Arab spokesperson, the terp known as Dodge, was a student working on his thesis on Huckleberry Finn and poignant quotes from the book introduce each chapter. His family worked for Saddam Hussein. He enjoys American music and literature. He wants to help the Americans, but this means he also betrays his own family and friends. In turn, the Americans reward his bravery by betraying him and his service and failing to help him leave a country that only has enemies against him now. He finds himself an exile in Tunisia, at the end of the book, and he is somewhat of a freedom fighter, once again, only this time he is the English spokesperson for self-styled, young, freedom fighters there. They believe they are also fighting what they see as an unfair despotic government. The heroes and the villains often view themselves in warped mirrors. The hero views a villain in his glass, unable to accept the praise, and the villain views himself as a savior, eagerly accepting undeserved honor. I believe that Pitre has brought home the war experience for the reader so they can view the soldiers and their interactions, the brave and the damaged, the injured and the dead and understand the failures that have often resulted from inept handling of strategy and deployment of soldiers to specific areas in a war zone, understand and perhaps bring about positive change to correct and prevent additional, unnecessary, perspective catastrophes. Besides the main characters, there are several minor ones who play important roles. One is the female Sergeant Michelle Gomez, a little larger than life. Another is Major Leighton who thoughtlessly, perhaps, sends the men on missions that are not well thought out but is charged with doing it and then with rewarding or punishing them according to a book or rules that should probably be abandoned. Another is Corporal Zahn who sustains a head injury and is basically treated without proper medical care or assessment. Then there is the beloved Gunny Stout, a man whose bravery and casual disregard for regulations placed him in even greater danger. Each of the characters had a different approach and perspective on the war that affected their behavior. They were all young and, perhaps, a little naïve and idealistic, at first. This soon changed as they learned to master their job, their environment and their lives., but to a man and woman, after Iraq, there was no real returning to the life they once had, they had been forever altered, forever changed and could not go back. The horrors of war, the emotions of the fellow soldiers, the enemies coldness, the mistrust and the fear are so palpable that the reader will be upset more often than not, and yet, this story must be told. Each side believes they are fighting for the just cause. Who decides who is right? Who decides the winner? Does might make right? The soldiers are not machines, they breathe, feel, move about and are effected in many ways by what they experience, and we who sit in our ivory towers ignoring them are making a mistake and not learning from history. We allow them to be sent out on missions that are not well planned, with equipment that is inferior to what they require and without regard to their safety while in service or their healthy return to life outside the military. They return with so much baggage, it is hard for them to let go and live a normal life without some help and guidance. Their scars need time to heal and not all are visible. If nothing else, this novel points out the absolute futility of war. It is never ending in one form or another but it takes on a life of its own. There are always different sides, different opinions, and different despots willing to take over and rule. So long as human beings fail at diplomacy, fail to live with, come to terms with, understand and tolerate different cultures, religions, and races, conflict will continue to exist and lives will continue to be lost in the fog of war.