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July 7, 2008 | by  | in Books |
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My War

Colby Buzzell, My War: Killing Time in Iraq (Berkeley Caliber, New York, 2006), p 368.

My War: Killing Time in Iraq is a light-hearted and fascinating book. The first of the ‘war-bloggers’ to enter print, Buzzell describes his experiences on the ground in Operation Iraqi Freedom, from his post in Mosul, Iraq. He provides an enthralling account of his time there, which is unusually enjoyable given the subject matter.

In My War, Buzzell is heavily influenced by his heroes Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and even Hunter S Thompson. The similarities between Buzzell and his heroes are many: all adopt a terse, to-the-point writing style, all rely on visual language to involve the reader, and all tell of personal experience in a very non-stylised way.

Buzzell intentionally steps away from the political aspects of the war as much as possible. He devotes only a few short vignettes to considering the justice of what his nation was doing in Iraq, and how the people on the street felt about his presence. He keeps the writing as personal as possible, never leaving the first-person, and dealing with his own experiences, perceptions and fears.

He is not negative about Operation Enduring Freedom, and the book does describe the exciting adventure and manly camaraderie Buzzell expected to get from the Army when he enlisted. It also describes the horror of realising for the first time that “someone is trying to kill you.” But this is contrasted with serious frustration at just how mundane and boring life in Iraq could be.

Buzzell emphasises the periods out of combat. He contrasts the total boredom of a patrol with the frustration of not being able to communicate with the people he is supposedly helping. His unglamorous presentation of war is truly different from any other publication on Iraq, and arguably on war in general.

My War: Killing Time in Iraq is a truly fascinating book. Buzzell is not anti- war, and indeed seems to approve on the whole of the American reconstruction efforts. But he seems to entirely resent being there as part of the reconstruction effort himself. Buzzell is well-aware of the contradiction, and his self-awareness provides even more opportunities for humour and thought-provoking writing.

Buzzell’s account of his time in Iraq is very interesting politically. His hyper-liberal beliefs provide an interesting counterpoint to the institutional nature of the US Army, yet he never explicitly opposes anything the Army does.

He doesn’t try to preach to the reader, limiting himself to informing the reader that he felt at least he was doing something worthwhile. He gives the definite impression that Iraq, while still a terrifying and dangerous place to live, was better off at the time of writing than it was pre-2003.

My War is a truly excellent book. Amazingly readable, it presents a perspective on a controversial war that is difficult to find elsewhere, and is interspersed with laugh-out-loud moments that aren’t to be expected from what is still a war book.

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