Given that he was an army journalist, Minnick had a duty to put the best possible slant on his reporting; he was forced to always strive to present the American military in the best possible light. Yet, he was also a soldier, carrying a weapon along with his camera and regularly being shot at. One of his responsibilities while in Iraq was to go to the sites of bombings and document the results, which included cooked body parts and pools of blood. This book is a journal of his experiences in Iraq as well as his life after returning.
Minnick is justifiably proud of his service, yet in his account you can see many of the signs of futility about the endeavor. He describes the position of many of the Iraqis, for no matter how noble the goals of a military occupation, it is still an occupation and many Iraqis hated the American presence. One of the most telling points of the book is when he witnesses an Iraqi man firing a pistol in the air as a celebration of a victory by the Iraqi national soccer team. At this point, Minnick was beginning to consider all Iraqis a threat and he had to suppress a powerful urge to shoot the man. Fortunately, he did not commit the act, his reason won out over the relentless battlefield conditioning he was exposed to.
Minnick has many memories of Iraq, some fond ones of his comrades, both American and Iraqi. One of the best aspects of this book that aids in understanding the problems being faced there is when he describes the strong role that tribal rivalries play in Iraqi society. That is one of the greatest problems that must be overcome if there is to ever be any form of Iraqi unity and although he does not spend a great deal of time on it, that fact is a critical one.
Like a large percentage of soldiers returning from Iraq, Minnick had a difficult time integrating back into society, eventually being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In many ways his story is typical, great anger, terrifying nightmares, heavy drinking and a feeling of listlessness towards life. Fortunately, Minnick was able to find sufficient support mechanisms so that he is gradually overcoming the residue of his service.
The American military excursion into Iraq is a horrendously complex condition; unfortunately both sides of the good idea/bad idea debate significantly oversimplify the situation. This is an account written by someone that has been there and witnessed combatants on both sides bleed their last. As an army journalist, Minnick was required to both learn about the issues and live in the danger zone, which makes his account an honest and accurate one, both personally and professionally. Regular news reporters may witness the action, but they are not part of it in the sense that Minnick could shoot back. This is a great book.