The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time And Fighting Wars
- Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 27 May 2010
Showing 1-3 out of 3 reviews.
In the past several years I have read dozens of military memoirs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but all have been from an American standpoint. Hennessey's is the first I've read by a British army officer. The writing, not surprisingly, is excellent. Hennessey's reasons for entering the army after what appears to have been a very privilged life and university are somewhat vague, although it seems fairly certain that he mostly wanted to test himself in ways that only the military life and the crucible of combat could provide. He got what he bargained for and perhaps even more. His attitude throughout the book remains a kind of brash, cocksure arrogance that reflects a determination not to break down under the multiple stresses of war and command. He sees fellow officers, friends and men under his command crippled, mutilated and killed, and he also is very much aware of the insulated indifference of the civilian populace that makes no sacrifices on "the home front." At these times his attitude widens to include anger and a certain amount of confusion and wondering how he will ever be able to readjust to a civilian role. There is a kind of hard-earned youthful wisdom expressed in his attempts to articulate the idea that what is happening to him on these foreign battlefields will probably be the defining experience of his life -"I suddenly know that I hate this and love it at the same time because I can already feel both how glad I will be when it is over and how much I will miss it. How difficult to convey to anyone that matters something which they will never understand, and how little anything else will ever matter."Hennessey's narrative is also filled with cultural references of his time - films, music, television. And most of it was familiar even to me, despite an ocean and forty years of living that separates us. The foul language that permeates military life and which filled the book was not a bit off-putting to me. I've been there and have lived that high-spirited boundary-testing time that almost all soldiers go through when they are finally on their own and far from home for the first time. The obscenity and the often shocking dark humor expressed here are normal; they are checkpoints of the genuineness of the experience. The juxtaposition of being shelled by enemy fire daily and an addiction to a DVD set of the American hospital soap, "Grey's Anatomy," during the lulls in battle are handled well. Readers will quickly become accustomed to such things, which represent, in many ways, the madness of war.If there was anything at all which disappointed me in THE JUNIOR OFFICERS' READING CLUB it was that very few books were actually given. I came to the book with pen and paper at hand, hoping to harvest a list of actual books these men were reading. I came away with nothing I wished to read. But perhaps that was a cultural or age-related disconnect on my part; I don't know. Another minor shortcoming, one mentioned by other reviewers, is that the book goes on perhaps a bit too long. The Afghanistan section of the book, the part which describes the fiercest combat - the patrols, the ambushes, the shelling - almost seems to drag on, as Hennessey continues to try to "tell it all." I have read that he is now studying for the legal profession. Perhaps he figures this will be his one and only book and he just wanted to "get it all in" before hanging up his writer's hat for good. Again, I don't know. It might be intersting now to read some memoirs from other nationalities who have been there - other members of that much-mentioned "coalition of forces." In the meantime I will recommend this one - a very good book.
Found this hard going, there were SO many acronyms; even though the author provides a comprehensive glossary at the back it was exhausting continually having to flip back and forth to look them up. The book's title was somewhat misleading I felt, I had expected to read more about what the young officers read in their spare moments, and although the author does list some of the books about war and the military that helped form his views there was nothing that I would consider a reading club list.Having said that, I did get some sense of the professionalism and dedication of the young men who serve in our army, and of the huge amount of training they have to undertake, their off-hand bravery is inspiring. The book also made me think hard about our national defense policy, and where it is deficient. More must have sunk in than I realised, as this week there has been a major UK/US operation in Afghanistan and on one occasion 12 civilians were killed it has been all over the news, and for once I completely understood what had happened, and the story behind the headlines.
I should not have read this bookI certainly should not be reviewing this bookI firmly believe that British troops should not have been sent to Iraq and certainly should not be in Afghanistan. Messrs Bush and Blair and their shamefully dishonest governments have much to answer for. They are responsible for giving Patrick Hennessey and his ilk the licence to play out their violent video fantasy's for real in far away foreign countries.This book is the memoirs of a junior British officer; a platoon leader in Iraq and Afghanistan. He describes his training at Sandhurst which is all in his words "marching , ironing and shouting". and which drives the recruits to the limits of their physical capabilities. His first tour of duty is in Baghdad, where he is disappointed that he has not fired a gun in anger, however his platoon receives the wonderful news that they are being sent to Afghanistan. A real chance to kick ass.This book celebrates the glory and excitement of modern day warfare. The adrenaline rush of being able to go to foreign countries and kill as many of the inhabitants as they can. At times it reads like a glorified video game. Here is Hennessey riding in a snatch vehicle in Baghdad itching to shoot somebody:breathing calm and regulated now, finger almost indecently flirting with the safety catch.... an incredible and unplaceable feeling of responsibility, sinister and strangely ecstatic, bewildering calm and almost elation to have this stranger perfectly lined up, a fraction of a second-two silent fractional movements and one 5.56 tracer round away from me and eternity and slowly from under his robe he takes out another bottle of coke and takes a swigHennessey describes the thrill of battle like this:try and piece together what it is about the contact battle that ramps the heartbeat up so high and pumps adrenaline and euphoria through the veins in such a heady rapid mix....and wonder what compares: the winning goal scoring punch, the first kiss, the triumphant knicker peeling moment? Nowhere else sells bliss like this, surely?Hennessey dreams about getting medals to show:to shout from the rafters that what we had done was not wrong, not bad, but glorious and heroic, and we wern't sick to feel that it had all been such fucking good funHennessey's platoon were responsible for killing nearly 200 Taliban. There was no respect for the dead and it was just bad luck if one of their own took a hit. It was all in the game. Modern weaponry and its effects is described in loving detail. The Afghani people might as well be from a different planet.The title of the book is misleading there are two pages of the 300 devoted to the reading club. More space is given to the delights of TV programs like "24" and "Greys Anatomy". Hennessey uses quite a few cliches but on the whole his writing is tolerably good.
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