Thank You For Your Service

David Finkel

Thank You For Your Service
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Thank You For Your Service

David Finkel

From a MacArthur Fellow and the author of The Good Soldiers, a profound look at life after war The wars of the past decade have been covered by brave and talented reporters, but none has reckoned with the psychology of these wars as intimately as the award-winning journalist David Finkel.

For The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the infamous surge, a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed them all forever. In Finkel’s hands, readers can feel what these young men were experiencing, and his harrowing story instantly became a classic in the literature of modern war.

In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel has done something even more extraordinary. Once again, he has embedded with some of the men of the 2-16–but this time he has done it at home, here in the States, after their deployments have ended. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like–not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done.

The story Finkel tells is mesmerizing, impossible to put down. With his unparalleled ability to report a story, he climbs into the hearts and minds of those he writes about. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of these two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?

Review

David Finkel can write – and how. Thank You For Your Service is his second non-fiction book delving into the lives of soldiers who were on the front line in Baghdad (his first book was the incredible The Good Soldiers), but this time he’s documenting their lives back home, where post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are the battles du jour.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Finkel’s non-fiction reads like a gripping story, and actually, the lives of these soldiers have all the elements of great fiction: drama, conflict, tragedy – the lot. Returned from combat the soldiers can’t settle: they feel guilty and they’re angry. They can’t remember stuff, or they remember too much stuff. Their wives can’t deal with them, and they can’t deal with themselves. Walls are punched. Shotguns are placed into mouths. Children watch on from the sidelines and wonder if this is normal behavior.

Finkel’s writing style is immediate. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t in the basement beside Saskia as Adam had his finger trembling against the shotgun trigger. That he wasn’t watching Tim Jung write his suicide note. That he wasn’t in the therapy session as Tausolo – always so good with maths before he went to war – tried to figure out the simple logistics of buying roses for his wife to apologise for his crazy behaviour.

As Finkel notes, the army is aware of the problems, but struggles to give tangible assistance to these guys. There are programs set up to help them, but even after participating the soldiers still go home and wreak havoc on either themselves or their family. As Finkel writes, the number of soldier suicides ‘is exceeding the number of combat deaths and averaging almost one a day.’

Thank You for Your Service is an unflinching and honest depiction of life inside the heads of these returned men, and an acute account of the new battle they now face.


Gabrielle Williams is a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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