I just finished Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson*. (Literally. I just put it down, not an hour ago.) I read it in just a few days, which isn't the norm considering my busy schedule. This book warranted late nights, early mornings, and skipped household chores. That's how good it was.
The memoir of a 19-year-old soldier in Iraq, Ghosts of War wasn't an easy read. There were moments when I wanted to put the story down and let it go. But I kept reading, recognizing that once they enlisted, Smithson and his fellow soldiers had no choice. They lived through those experiences, and if they could do it, I could certainly do it vicariously from the safety of my own home.
Smithson describes heart-wrenching, violent and everyday experiences in a way that even the most isolated and privileged of us can relate to. This book is for anyone who has ever wondered why someone would enlist during war time. ("The Twin Towers didn't fall in Manhattan. They fell on me," Smithson says.) It is for anyone who has ever grumbled, "We shouldn't be over there. We never should have started this war." It is for anyone who has ever thought the only thing happening in Iraq is death and violence.
Smithson recognizes that his tour isn't one that movies will be made from or that will be recounted as one of heroism and honor. He's part of an engineering unit after all, not on the front lines. But he's part of a war, just the same. He risks his life doing every day tasks like going to dinner. He couldn't be further away from his home in New York State.
There's an eight-hour delay between Iraq and the United States. Millions of content American families will be sitting down for dinner eight hours from now. ... They'll be hungry for dinner and for the evening news. They'll be ready for the daily body count, the daily Bush-bashing, the story from Iraq. And that's all it will be to them: a story, a dramatic saga full of twists and turns and epic heroism. It'll be entertainment, the only thing they'll ever learn about the Iraq war.
The experiences Smithson describes take the reader beyond what we see on the evening news to something more concrete. This book is not entertainment. It's an honest, first-hand look at the good and bad of war.
Don't let the only thing you know about the Iraq war be the stories of destruction and death and violence you hear on the news. Sure, those things are important to recognize. They make up much of the war's plot line, but there's rebuilding, generosity, and support, too. In Iraq, as much as there is fighting and killing, there is also hope and faith and love.
If you're an American, Ghosts of War should be required reading.
* In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that Ryan Smithson is my cousin. I was, however, in no way compensated for this review.