Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

In his memoir One Bullet Away, Nate Fick shares his story of joining the Marine Corps as an officer, and deploying just before the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Fick's story, told in ways that are both too glib and too frank, confuses the hell out of me.

I understand the call to serve. I understand the frustration that clearly mounts as he is thrust into war zones, in Afghanistan and again in Iraq, that his training did not fully prepare him for by commanders more interested in jockeying for promotion than in the safety of Fick's platoon.

But I don't understand who Fick was writing for. Who does he think will love his book?

Fick starts off with a glorification of war, of the Marines, of martial life that is, to me, off-putting. "The grunt life was untainted," he writes. "Being a Marine... was a rite of passage in a society becoming so soft and homogenized that the very concept was often sneered at." I could spend all day trying to unpack what Fick means by "soft," but I think the quote shares the flavor of the opening chapters, and the hard-soft motif resurfaces throughout the memoir's nearly 400 pages.

Fick handles death lightly. All of his platoon members survive his tour in Iraq, though some are wounded or killed later. The people who die are enemies, othered, and largely nondescript. Threats among the Marines to kill each other if they screw up, as Fick does when one of his men offers to blow an undetonated bomb, are common. But the story lacks the grittiness, the nastiness of military memoirs that have lately been turned into successful movies.

But as much as Fick loves the Marines, his platoon, his life as a soldier, he ultimately leaves the Corps because of its seemingly mindless bureaucracy. He leaves because he can't imagine putting himself back in harms way if he is surrounded by the kind of people he served his first Iraq deployment with- the idiots who drive down every road with guns blazing, endangering allies and civilians, or the ladder climbing fools who want to call in air support strikes simply become another company had called one earlier. So the book is not written, I think, for the military enthusiast.

Fick makes a compelling case for the re-assessment of American readiness. "I was noticing a trend in my career: train to lead a rifle platoon, but get a weapons platoon; train to raid the coastline in rubber boats, but go to war in a landlocked country; train to jump into patrols via parachute, but use boots or Humvees in the real world." Fick chooses to see this train for Plan A, fight with Plan B as "a tribute to flexibility," but given the dysfunction evident throughout his dealings with military command, it smacks of mismanagement.

Book 32 of my book-a-week challenge.

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