26 April 2009


i just finished reading craig m. mullaney's absorbing memoir, and cannot recommend it highly enough to any reader. part military history, part coming-of-age story, and part window into the war in afghanistan, his narrative is faultless, and his inner journey is a revelation. this, from the book jacket --

"one haunting afternoon on losano ridge in afghanistan, u.s. army captain craig mullaney and his infantry platoon were caught in a deadly firefight with al-qaeda fighters, when a message came over the radio -- one of his soldiers had been killed by the enemy.

"mullaney's education, the four years he spent at west point and the harrowing test of ranger school, readied him for a career in the army. his subsequent experience as a rhodes scholar at oxford couldn't have been further from the army and his working-class roots, and yet the unorthodox education he received there would be surprisingly relevant as a combat leader.

"but despite all his preparation, the hardest questions remained -- when the call came to lead his platoon into battle and earn his soldiers' salutes, would he be ready? was his education sufficient for the unforgiving minutes he'd face?

"years later, after that excruciating experience in afghanistan, he would return to the united states to teach history to future navy and marine corps officers at the naval academy. he had been in their position once, not long ago. how would he use his own life-changing experiences to prepare them?

"written with unflinching honesty, The Unforgiving Minute is an unforgettable portrait of a young soldier grappling with the weight of his hard-earned knowledge, while at last coming to terms with what it means to be a man."

here is a link to further description and reviews, and here is another link to the author's website. (be sure to watch the two video trailers there. they are quite revealing.)

west point graduate with honors in history. successful completion of army airborne and ranger schools. rhodes scholar to oxford. veteran of combat in afghanistan. yet far beyond having a strictly military mindset, mullaney is a renaissance man, interested in the arts and humanities, and mindful of the need to understand and respect the traditions of other cultures.

following are a few exerpts from the book --

~ [during airborne training] i leaped out and arched my back into the shape of a banana, as instructed. my eyes looked down toward the ground, and my body followed in a 120-mile-an-hour swan dive. i had never felt so alive -- a million nerves dancing in the buffeting slipstream. diving at the speed of a bullet train was the loudest silence imaginable, like a hurricane of emptiness. with every heartbeat i fell over two hundred feet. the ground rushed toward me in a blur. one minute of free fall, sixty seconds alone to glide, to spin, to flip over and over and over, each rotation an insult to order. i smiled at the altimeter dial racing toward zero and pulled my rip cord. imminent danger produces a bizarre clarity of purpose.

~ "ever tried. ever failed. no matter. try again. fail again. fail better." -- samuel beckett, "Worstward Ho"

~ [during ranger training] "why are you here?" ....... "wrong answer, ranger. you are here for one reason. you are here for the troops you are going to lead. you are responsible for keeping them alive and accomplishing whatever mission you're given. i don't care if you're tire, hurt, or lonely. this is for them, and they deserve better. you owe them your ranger tab. fuck self-pity. this isn't about you."

~ [during oxford studies] a comlex vocabulary helped unlock complex ideas.

~ comfort in ambiguity would be as essential to leading in combat as the ability to plan.

~ "the nation that will insist on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards." -- sir william francis butler

~ [in afghanistan's guerrilla war] lieutenant colonel lacamera's warning echoed in my head: be polite. be professional. be prepared to kill everyone you meet.

~ "i have not been at the front. i have been in front of it." -- wilfred owen, 1917

~ (the morning briefing slides) read like scripts from a weather forecast -- "today, winds will be from the northwest at 10-15 knots with a 30 percent chance of rockets."

~ [upon returning home] "no man ever steps into the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- heraclitus

~ [describing his marriage to meena, an east indian woman whom he'd met and fallen in love with at oxford] with each step we recited our vows, among them a promise to nurture each other's beliefs and dreams, to find fulfillment in our work, to alleviate the suffering of others, and to live a life full of joy and laughter.

~ "you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." -- leon trotsky
craig m. mullaney is currently a member of the obama-biden transition project.

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