Today’s WaPo runs this unusually uninformative review of a couple of heinous crimes that occurred in Iraq. The review’s chief virtue is to make us aware of two recently published books.  The first, which the critic lauds, is Jim Frederick’s One Platoon’s Descent Into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death, about the unit whose members raped and killed a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killed her family, leading to the Green MEJA prosecution.  The second, which the critic panned, is Cilla McCain’s Murder in Baker Company:  How Four American Soldiers Killed One of their Own.

5 Responses to “A couple of books about military crimes in Iraq”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Black Hearts is really quite good. The book covers the battalion’s one-year deployment from beginning to end. The courts-martial themselves are not covered in any great detail–they are discussed in the epilogue only. But the narrative is very compelling, and, frankly, the courts-martial probably are not anywhere near as interesting as the story leading up to the crime.

    The book is very sympathetic to the Soldiers on the ground in that part of Iraq, as well as (most of) their platoon and company level leaders. The author clearly paints the battalion leadership in a negative light—the battalion commander is portrayed as an abusive leader who was not in touch with the “ground truth.” I wasn’t there, so I really can’t say whether or not the portrayal of the leadership is accurate or not. I am sure there are two (or more) sides to that story. But I suspect this may become one of those books that is urged upon junior officers and NCOs for its lessons on combat fatigue, morale, and the perceptions—right or wrong—Soldiers have of their leaders and how it affects their actions on the battlefield.

    Unlike other efforts to chronicle war crimes in Iraq, Black Hearts does not start with the premise that the War, Bush, Cheney, the Army, etc. are “evil” and then go in search of anecdotes to support that conclusion. Instead, it’s just a very gripping story of what happened to one battalion in what was one of the most rancid and violent areas in Iraq during the entire war.

  2. Presley O'Bannon says:

    Anon, thanks for the insight. I am interested in this book. Out of curiosity, did you get the sense that the rape/murder incident could have been avoided with a better chain of command? Or was it just the result of some unstable soldiers going off the deep end?

    As a broader issue, I wonder to what extent solid leadership plays in preventing these types of horrors, and to what extent they are just a byproduct of the diverse swath of humanity that makes up our all volunteer military.

  3. Connie C. Hanes says:

    Actually the Post reviewer didn’t pan Murder In Baker Company, he just said he liked Black Hearts better. I’ve read McCain’s book and agree that it is “solid, credible and presents strong evidence” just as the Post claimed. It is a heartwrenching story of what our military families have to endure when their soldier dies a non-combat death. I highly recommend it to anyone.

  4. Thomas Peete says:

    I’ve read both of these books and they are both shocking! It’s impossible to compare the two though because they are very different stories. Black Hearts focuses more on detailing actual battles and the horrors and rage this group of soldiers go through caused in part by serious problems with their leadership. It’s blood curdling. But Murder In Baker Company is a military/true crime book that painstakingly details the savage way the soldier in question was killed. What struck me the most with this story was how the civilian authorities seemed to do all they could to help the army keep war atrocities, abuse of prescription drugs and the Midtown Massacre from being brought up in court. Not to mention that their company commander was investigated on murder charges yet still received the Silver Start!! It’s crazy!! McCain also publishes quite a few military and court exhibits that reinforce the information. Both are a great read and I hope something is done about the problems they outline!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    P O’B: Having thought about your question, all I can say is that there is just no way to tell. As I noted above, the book clearly lays some blame at the feet of the battalion leadership for imposing mission requirements that could not be accomplished with the available manpower available at the company and platoon levels. But who knows if anything would have changed if they had another platoon’s worth of Soldiers? One could just as easily argue that the squad level and team level leadership was to blame for fomenting an attitude of inhumanity towards Iraqis, and that the Platoon and Company level leaders failed to stop it. After losing two NCOs and their Platoon Leader in a single month, the Platoon in this book took a take a “take no prisoners” attitude. They would go on patrols—sometimes drunk—just to kick the s–t out of Iraqis. It went (further) downhill from there. I don’t know that is a problem that better Battalion level leadership could have fixed. In sum, the best thing one can say is that there appeared to be a failure at every level, from the Squad Level all the way to the Battalion and possible Brigade level.