Update August 2011 – This interesting book now available online at http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/070/70-107-1/index.html.
Last night I finished the book:
There is a lot that Todd Brown’s journal is not. It is not an official account, nor does it purport to be. It is not consistent. Todd experiments with his writing style–he was a civil engineering major at the US Military Academy–and bounces around with respect to structure, organization, and delivery. He also bounces through mood swings reflecting good days and bad days. Reading a paragraph in isolation might cause one to believe that the war was winnable or hopeless depending on the exigencies of the moment rather than upon some overarching theory of campaign progression. Sometimes he speaks casually of breathtaking courage, and other times he seems almost whiny.
His mood swings are the most dramatic when it comes to the Iraqis. He can effervesce when he has had a pleasant experience with the locals, such as the sheik in Balad who celebrated his birthday, fussed over his glacially improving Arabic; and offered him a daughter in marriage if only he would convert to Islam. He can evince dark hostility when grinding away through recurring insurgent ambuscades. Indeed, he personally created a bit of a flap in a number of newspapers when he made some not particularly flattering comments when enforcing a cordon after one of his sergeants was killed. We do not expect homicide detectives to rhapsodize about the virtues of human nature nor do we expect embattled company commanders to glad-hand the press. Brown’s journal is not objective. It is a captain’s eye view of the world from which one might surmise that most units other than his own were half-stepping, those in branches and services other than infantry are hardly soldiers at all, and everyone above the rank of major is a geriatric case.
On the very last sentence, I have to part company with the editor. Captain Brown greatly respected his last CO in Iraq, Lt. Col Sassaman almost to the point of reverence. That being said, I can’t think of anyone else above the rank of major who is singled out for praise.
The main reason I am recommending this book for all public and high school libraries is that Captain Brown goes into great detail about field living conditions in Iraq. After awhile I could feel the sand all over, the sun beating down on my head and the general lack of toilets available to infantry in Iraq. This last condition persisted months after the President’s “mission accomplished” speech in May 2003.
Another feature that makes this book a good buy is that the editors provided month-by-month background material that gives the “big picture” view of the war that wasn’t available to Captain Brown. People looking for a readable and mostly unbiased chronology of the war would do well to go through the background introductions to each chapter of Battleground Iraq.
Because I found this book so interesting and potentially useful for young people considering military service, I started searching OCLC WorldCat for other first hand servicemember accounts. I’ve put the ones I’ve found so far on to a list at http://www.worldcat.org/profiles/dcornwall/lists/38640. If you’ve read any of the books on the list, please drop me a line whether you’d recommend it to others. And if you’ve read Battleground Iraq, please share your thoughts in the comments section.