Finkel, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for a series on a U.S.-funded program to
encourage democracy in
You were in a Shiite militia-dominated area of
If you are in [this sort of attack], it sticks with you. The battalion commander was in eight or nine [such
bombings], and there were some guys who were keeping count from two deployments, they were up to a couple dozen. There was
an Iraqi interpreter, her name was Rachel, and there's no way to verify it, but she says she had been in 40-some explosions.
She needed the money -- her
You describe how the soldiers did their best to mitigate the effects of these attacks but also about how there was so little they could do.
These were the most heartbreaking calculations to make. And they're brilliant calculations. But once they began
to understand what an EFP could do -- how it would become semimolten and shaped and burn through whatever was in front of
it, whether it was the very best humvee in the
How did it affect the soldiers?
Ultimately what becomes the most moving are the very smallest observed things. It's not the big picture, but it's the small things that happen inside that picture, the everyday things. And the everyday thing was calculations like that as they went out again and again to often do the best they could to find EFPs, and still they couldn't find them all. Bang. And sometimes they would just get a little shaken up, and sometimes it would be far, far worse. So they changed. They were rather as you'd expect, young and naive and full of war hopes when they went, and when they came home they weren't so much that way anymore.
Some of the passages must have been so difficult to write. At one point, you describe the experience of a
family in a
You're talking about, I think, a great family, an amazing family. This is a pretty extreme case, but the context of that is a 19-year-old kid who lost both legs all the way up, his right arm all the way up to his shoulder, and much of his left arm, and he was pretty thoroughly burned over what was left of him. Thirty surgeries. Ears fall off. The tip of his nose falls off. Eyes have to be sutured shut at one point. This was about as bad as a physical injury could be. And yet he survived month after month after month.
How does the experience of the 2-16 contribute to the national debate about America's wars?
It seems to me that if there's a conversation to be had about
And yet there was a great deal of humor among the soldiers in the book.
They were some pretty dark, funny guys at times. In hindsight, I could see how extreme the everyday emotions
Just as they are getting ready to return home, their area explodes with new levels of violence.
What happens by the nature of the deployment, each chapter gets progressively worse in a way. More surreal. I remember writing it, and then the next chapter would take it to the next level, the next circle down. These are 19-, 20-year-old kids -- terrific but absolutely ordinary kids. Without that [fact], I think, what happens to them isn't felt as deeply.
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