This book starts off with a lot of macho rah-rah, and a jab or two at liberals. Here we go, I thought, another righter-than-right tough guy with something to prove. Well, as it turns out, this book actually has quite a lot of humility and political balance. Not that that's necessary for a good war (auto)biography, but it sure helps make this book an interesting read. Coughlin wasn't the typical "grew up with a rifle in his hands" boy from Texas. In fact, he didn't really shoot until entering the Marine Corps. Once there, he found he had prodigious talent for the job, including the stealthy hunting aspects required to be a Marine Sniper (an elite group within the Marines). Coughlin serves across the globe in a variety of hot spots, including Somalia, before joining in on the war in Iraq (#2).
Coughlin, a cussing, hard-driven, salt-of-the-earth Gunnery Sergeant quickly impresses his commanding officers with his ability to use sniping as a powerful tool on the battlefield. His idea of mobile snipers was first tested in an exercise in the US, but it rapidly starts proving itself in Iraq. The co-author, Captain Kuhlman, works with Coughlin and is a strong supporter, as is the head Colonel. Unfortunately, an incompetent officer (Officer "Bob") keeps reigning Coughlin in just as he starts making a real difference in the front lines. The damage a good sniper can do is invaluable for its effects on moral, disrupting reinforcements, and minimizing collateral damage and innocent casualties. And Coughlin is undoubtedly a very good sniper.
What I found most interesting was the psychological description of his work. Coughlin is absolutely, completely, a cold-hearted killing machine when an enemy is in his scope. No hesitation, no remorse (although he does comment that the faces of those he kills always come back to him in dreams). At first this seemed like just macho bravado, especially after reading On Killing (a book about the heavy cost of killing another human in combat). But then Coughlin shoots an enemy soldier twice, and miraculously, he finds that same soldier later being treated in a US infirmary. Coughlin immediately feels tremendous relief and empathy to know that he didn't "finish" the job (technically, he did, removing an enemy combatant). But it shows his human side. Then there was that infamous scene where people trying to flee Baghdad kept driving into Marine units. Coughlin is striken with helpless remorse as he tries shooting engines, tires, windows, anything to turn civilians away from the Marine lines. Because once they get too close, the Marines have no choice but to open up in self-defense. For some bizarre reason, too many people don't turn away from being shot at, and drive furiously onward to their doom. Watching kids die, watching families get shot up, really throws Coughlin for a bad curve. He psychologically shuts down for an entire day, unable to deal with what he was helpless to stop. This, above all else, revealed the human inside the killer. Coughlin also shows a softer side with the Iraqi children he comes across, who remind him of his own children (and strained marriage) back home. Coughlin praises the US for taking action against Saddam, but curses Rumsfeld and the civilian leaders who botched the post-invasion plans so badly.
I could go on, but I don't want to give away everything in the book. Suffice to say, this book is filled with enough action to satisfy anyone, but it also has enough depth to it to make it worth thinking about after you put it down. As Coughlin often says, war sucks. But if you're going to have to do it, having a surgical, highly-effective killer like Coughlin on your side is probably a good thing.