Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Blood Brothers

TIME Magazine’s Michael Weisskopf has written a powerful account of the courageous rehabilitation of four patients at Walter Reed Hospital, from injuries sustained in Iraq, in his soon-to-be-released book, Blood Brothers: Among the Soldiers of Ward 57.

Weisskopf, for those who don’t remember, was the TIME Magazine senior correspondent who embedded with the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad and survived a grenade attack. In a split section reaction, Weisskopf picked up and apparently tried to toss the grenade, certainly saving himself and three soldiers in the Humvee, losing his hand and changing the course of his life forever.

In the first person, Weisskopf relates his own experience as a combat casualty, and the unusual but well deserved honor of receiving treatment at Walter Reed’s Ward 57. He also writes with deep sympathy and understanding of several of his fellow patients, Pete Damon, Luis Rodriguez, and Bobby Isaacs.

Weisskopf reports that, due to increased armor and advanced in military medicine, 3% of all casualties involve an amputation of a limb, roughly twice the rate from previous conflicts.

Blood Brothers vividly captures what might otherwise be a forgotten story of our war in Iraq, that of soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and marines who endure horrific attacks, but must sacrifice limbs to survive. As such, it’s a must read for anyone who wants a full appreciation of the cost of our war in Iraq, and against the wider war on terror more generally.

I have written previously of some of the consequences of service in Iraq. My family and I have experienced first hand the sacrifices separation imposes on all of us. Mrs. Dadmanly has written movingly of the difficulties families can experience even after their soldiers are home.

I struggle with how to reconcile the tragic cost this multi-generational conflict will exact on many fine Americans, among our best and brightest to be sure, and the critical importance of our struggle against Islamofascism.

All wars exact a price, freedom isn’t free, and “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” to echo Mudville Gazette. Still, the price can be high, and highest of all, of course, for those who sacrifice most.

Which only means, we need to be sure of the enemies sworn against us, and certain of the targets of our wrath. The costs will always be high, but rarely are the risks of inaction as high as well.

I read through Weisskopf’s book, alert for any signs of politicizing these heroes, these who make the next thing closest to the supreme sacrifice, or of injecting the anti-war or anti-Administration bias I would expect from most journalists.

Weisskopf restrains himself admirably, giving only fleeting glimpses of his political orientation towards the war. The first, in an anecdote about avoiding a Presidential visit to the Ward (didn’t want to give the President a “photo op”), and the second in his explanation of how he “found no solace in sacrifice.”

Weisskopf describes himself as “increasingly skeptical of the US role in Iraq,” suggesting that “The unpopularity of US Soldiers should have been part of the story.” Apologetically, Weisskopf mourns the loss of his hand with the observation that, “there was no compelling public interest served by a profile on the American soldier in Iraq.” Weisskopf obviously regrets that he “had fallen into a snare known as embedding,” thereby losing his objectivity, and crossing the line “from observer to participant.”

Ironically, in the end Weisskopf rightly acknowledges the courage of his actions, the nobleness of his sacrifice, and the value of the life he now can lead, with greater appreciation of his value. Similarly, he also describes a later tribute in which he gladly accepts the public gratitude and appreciation of President Bush at a White House Correspondents Dinner. This time, Weisskopf explains, “where I held my own among my own, he paid me a great honor.”

Despite these reminders of the world from which Weisskopf embedded with the 1st AD, Weisskopf handles the “blood brothers” of his account with great compassion and insight. This is a most important book, a modern companion to the movie The Best Years of Our Lives.

Blood Brothers captures the painful struggles of the modern battlefield casualty, the colossal courage and steely determination that form the gritty necessities of life after amputation. Weisskopf has done these men and women high honor, and captures much of the inner struggle that accompanies each man’s rehabilitation program.

Weisskopf struggles with a nagging question throughout his account, whether he acted impulsively in grabbing the grenade that stole his hand, or out of courage and heroism.

With this struggle, the men of his account share his inner doubt. As do all of us who have served in war for our country. In this, Weisskopf captures something more than the difficult and wrenching story of perseverance over loss and limitation. He touches that place in every combat veteran, who says, “Those that stayed behind, that never made it out, they’re the real heroes. The rest of us survived.”

For our families, and for most of us, that was prize enough indeed.

Linked by Blogotional.

UPDATE: John Donovan at Castle Argghhh! has a must read review of Blood Brothers, making mention of Project Valour-IT and expressing some of the same connection with Weisskopf's internal struggle as I spoke about here.

Go read the whole thing.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]