Tuesday, March 11, 2014

War from the inside

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, soldiers, war, war stories, memoirs

CJ stands for Crazy Jay, whose civilian name is Dillard Johnson. With the help of James Tarr, he has produced a memoir: Carnivore: A Memoir by One of the Deadliest American Soldiers of All Time. According to an official U.S. Army study titled On Point, his team of about six scored about 3,000 KIA (killed in action) against Iraqi military and paramilitary forces, just in the first weeks of the Iraq war beginning in March, 2003, operation Iraqi Freedom. The facts, corroborated by numerous interviews, emphasize the combination of superior armor and weapons, fighting skill and training, and a lot of great good luck. "Carnivore" is the name Johnson's team gave to their Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a 25-ton mini-tank.

I seldom read war memoirs. Most are simply chest-beating bragging. Somehow, when I saw this book, I couldn't pass it up, and I am glad I read it. War truly is hell, the scenes after battles are truly hellish, and it is amazing that men can enter hell and return with any semblance of sanity. I am not disturbed by reading that about 1/3 of combat veterans have symptoms of PTSD (we used to call it "shell shock"). I am instead astounded that 2/3 of them can return home and get on with their lives, not unscathed, of course, but not disablingly damaged.

Early in the book, Johnson describes getting into Iraq, which was defended by berms along the border with Kuwait. He says you can see them on Google Earth, and indeed you can. The only set of imagery GEarth has is from July 2006, as seen here. This is south of Basrah. For scale, the larger bomb crater is 17.5m across. The yellow line is the border. Note a berm on the Kuwait side also, nearer the road. A third berm, ~350m to the south, is the edge of the UN Peacekeeping Zone prior to 2003. The Iraqi berm has been pierced in many locations, to let through American armor, which at the time consisted primarily of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The other two berms also had to be pierced, but not in as many places, as they weren't being defended.

I was tickled by a statement about Johnson's sniping activities later in his career (121 kills). He writes, "In war, if you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck." This goes along with my own attitude, that there is no such thing as a fair fight: Don't get into a fight until you can assure you have the advantage. That is just good tactics.

So I'll leave it at that. Read Carnivore for yourself. You'll be glad you did.

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