David Finkel began his project by following the deployment of the 2-16 battalion to Iraq. He was imbedded with the soldiers for eight months. His gripping tale was published as The Good Soldiers.
Mr. Finkel continued by following some of the same soldiers home. He witnessed their struggle to leave war behind. To return to what was. But for the soldiers, the war kept butting in. At night. During the day. Sleeping. Awake. So close to the surface. The struggle gets worse with time. Families work to understand, but they can’t. How can you understand war when you weren’t there? Their soldier moves further away. This soldier doesn’t deserve understanding. This soldier came home. This soldier wasn’t there to save the buddy.
In Thank You for Your Service, Mr Finkel is masterful at showing the quiet devastation tearing these vets apart. Their self-induced loneliness is fostered by their inability to talk to anyone that wasn’t there. They didn’t understand what the soldiers were expected to do to survive. Politics, ego, and exhaustion further demolish their fragile minds. Many are abandoned by family. Even if they’re not, they feel guilty they can’t be the hero. They can’t be the caretaker. They can’t be a shoulder for their loved ones. They feel guiltier still when they are the ones who abandon loved ones so as not to be a further burden.
The Veterans Administration has tried to help the vets and with each new program, the soldier is hopeful. Only to be let down when the list is bigger than the number of seats. Or, because of budgets, the program is cut.
These soldiers returned so damaged, so hurt, so hopeless. Where could they turn for healing? They came home, but did they survive the war?
Certainly, the combat veteran’s rate of suicide, two every three days, is an unmistakeable indicator.
One reviewer called this book a “bruising account” of the plight of combat veterans. Well, it bruises anyone who reads it.
David Finkel begs the reader to ask:
Do we know what war is?
Do we realize the true costs of war?
What are we thanking our veterans for?
These are questions we should all ask before we send anyone to war.