Book Reviews

A Soldier turned Reporter

By January 24, 2008 No Comments

Combat in small wars is never a minor matter to those who personally experience it, and a soldier doesn’t need to be caught up in a giant mincing machine like Stalingrad or Verdun to know every nuance of fear, misery and suffering that battle has to offer. Given that – so far, anyway – the global Jihadist conflict has not taken on the appearance of a total war, most of our societies operate under the illusion that the distant battles we hear so little of cannot be significant.

David Bellavia argues otherwise, and he would know. In November 2004, after letting al Qaeda insurgents occupy the Iraqi city of Fallujah for seven months, the US military muscled its way back into the city. David Bellavia was a squad commander in the US Army’s 2nd Infantry Regiment and recounts his experience of this particular battle in House to House (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2007). The retaking of Fallujah wasn’t trivial to those who were there.

This is a gripping narrative from the point of view of a front-line soldier (which is always valuable to historians). Bellavia gives a fair notion of what it is like to fight Jihadis, and how they think in battle. As always, soldiers and warriors fight quite differently and soldiers usually win, but battle is seldom easy for those who wage it. The warriors of the Jihad are reckless, imaginative and aggressive — they are also incompetent, badly disciplined and uncoordinated.

The retaking of Fallujah wasn’t easy; one fight that Bellavia describes in explicit detail must still give him nightmares. Moreover, there have been other battles like it, and there will be more. Yet if one compares what sort of defences the Jihadis could prepare in seven months, compared to what the Imperial Japanese or the Wehrmacht routinely did, they don’t quite seem so fearsome… but all the same, they are today’s problem and not one that is over 60 years behind us. And soldiers today still need the same guts that their grandsires had.