Review

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family

by Martha Raddatz

Bookstore shelves already are groaning under the weight of
volumes analyzing the geopolitics of the Iraq War and chronicling
the decisions that took the United States into a war that has now
lasted longer than our involvement in World War II. Anyone looking
for a gripping account of that war from the perspective of the
soldiers who have to fight it everyday need not search any further
than THE LONG ROAD HOME for an unflinching portrayal of its harsh
reality.


Veteran ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz has chosen to concentrate
on a tiny slice of the conflict --- what she describes as "perhaps
the most crucial turning point in the Iraq War." Late in the
afternoon of April 4, 2004, Palm Sunday, a 20-man platoon left its
base to accompany Iraqi sewage trucks sarcastically named "honey
wagons" on a routine patrol through the streets of Sadr City, a
six-square-mile slum in which 2.5 million Shiite Muslims live.
Before nightfall, the platoon found itself locked in mortal combat
with thousands of members of Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sad'rs Mahdi
Army and Iraqi civilians whose hatred of the American soldiers
reached an almost suicidal mania.


What makes this book such a gripping read is its laser-like focus
on a battle that lasted barely two hours. Raddatz's account feels
as if it proceeds almost in real time, as the soldiers of the First
Platoon, holed up in buildings in the heart of Sadr City, realize
they have no chance to fight their way out of this urban nightmare
and must depend on the courage of their fellow soldiers to save
them from annihilation. Despite those heroic rescue efforts,
including bravery that resulted in the award of Silver Stars to two
of the soldiers involved in the battle, seven members of the
platoon and one rescuer lost their lives.


Raddatz's writing is so vivid and full of riveting detail it's
apparent she had extensive access to all of the principals involved
in these events. Indeed, at times it's hard to believe she was not
on the scene. The pace of the battle scenes is swift and
relentless, slowed only occasionally by the insertion of details of
the urban geography or references to the military units involved.
Most readers will find themselves skimming in their haste to learn
the soldiers' fate.


Unlike many who have written about the Iraq War, Raddatz does not
have an obvious political agenda. At the same time, while her
writing is cool and factual she isn't reluctant to spotlight
handicaps, like the shortage of adequately armored vehicles, the
gaps in the training of our troops and the apparent lack of
readiness to deal with a situation on the ground that changed in an
instant from what many still thought was a peacekeeping mission to
all-out urban guerilla warfare. It's hard to suppress feelings of
anger at these deficiencies, but those emotions quickly mingle with
ones of admiration at the skill and bravery with which our soldiers
fight.


As compelling as her account of the Palm Sunday battle is, Raddatz
doesn't confine her attention to that engagement. Alongside it, she
recounts the hardships of the soldiers' families at Fort Hood,
Texas, learning of the battle on a placid Sunday afternoon and then
having to wait, in some cases for days, to learn the fate of their
loved ones. We come away from the stories of life on the home front
with a renewed appreciation of the sacrifice these family members
make when their spouses and parents go off to war.


As of this writing, almost 3,500 United States military personnel
have died in Iraq, and recent months have brought an escalation in
the number of casualties. Few Americans are neutral in their
opinions about this country's policy, but even those most
passionate in their political views probably don't pause very often
to think about what daily life is like for the soldiers in combat
there. THE LONG ROAD HOME offers a useful corrective to that state
of mind. It reminds us that each soldier's life is precious and
every death is singular.


Raddatz has said that she wanted readers "to put themselves in the
place of these soldiers and their families. I want them to feel
what they felt." She has done that with skill and sensitivity in
this sobering book.


  















Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com) on December 30, 2010

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family
by Martha Raddatz

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2007
  • Genres: Current Affairs, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399153829
  • ISBN-13: 9780399153822