Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arlington Reads: Author David Finkel visits with students from New Directions

Last Thursday, the students at New Directions had the honor of meeting David Finkel, author of The Good Soldiers, one of the books for this year's Arlington Reads. Librarian Lisa was there and gives us the scoop on the visit.

Mr. Finkel talked about the 8 months he spent in Iraq with the 2-16 Battalion. Most of the 800 soldiers in the 2-16 were 19-years-old, probably not much older than you are now.  At the end of the 2-16's deployment 14 soldiers had died and 75 had received Purple Hearts. Can you imagine being part of the "surge" of troops sent to Iraq in 2007? The Good Soldiers gives you a close-up look at what it was like.

Mr. Finkel started his presentation with a short video clip filmed through the front window of a Humvee. It shows the Humvees in front slowly heading down a street, always cautious of EFPs, the homemade bombs capable of decimating Humvees and their passengers.  As the lead vehicle turns a corner we see a huge explosion, then a black cloud of smoke fills the screen.

Every day the soldiers of the 2-16 put on their body armor and gear, loaded into Humvees, and headed out to the streets of Rustamiyah in eastern Baghdad. Every day they wondered if this would be their last day. Mr. Finkel's job was to observe and report on what life was like for those soldiers, and how the experience affected them. After his 8 months spent with the Battalion he spent 11 months processing what he saw and writing The Good Soldiers.

The students at New Directions had many questions for Mr. Finkel.

What made you risk your personal safety to do this?
Mr. Finkel replied that he didn't really know what he was getting into. He'd covered wars before, but had never lived up close with a battalion in a war for an extended period. But he believes that it's important for people to have as much information as they can in order to make decisions in the world. He explained that what he does is "observed journalism," a type of journalism where you don't email or phone to get information, you go out and observe and observe and observe until you have a story.  His isn't a book about war; it's a book about what war does to the characters of young men.

Where did you sleep?
Mr. Finkel explained that he had his own room in one of the cement buildings. Many of the soldiers slept in trailers, but he was put in a building that was believed to be safer from bombing. At the end of his stay, after a bomb hit the building, the soldier who told Mr. Finkel bombs didn't reach buildings wryly commented, "I guess I was wrong."
When you returned did you suffer from PSTD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder)?
Loud noises made Mr. Finkel jumpy for a while after her returned. He said he was downtown on a rooftop watching fireworks on July 4th, and realized that was a bad decision. But he's OK now.

Was there one day when you really wanted to leave?
What moved Mr. Finkel most wasn't the ongoing horror that he saw, but seeing the decency that people were capable of in the midst of the horror. He told the students that one huge difference between his experience and the soldiers' was that he was able to take breaks and come back to Washington when it got too tough for him. 

Did you keep up with the men after you returned home?
Yes, Mr. Finkel is still in touch with many of the soldiers. As a matter of fact, his next book will be about the experience of some of the soldiers from the 2-16 after they returned home. That book should be out in 2013, and we're looking forward to reading it.

For more information on Arlington Reads 2011, click here.

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