Book Review – Moment of Truth in Iraq

Michael Yon has logged more time in combat situations in Iraq than any other reporter, and this despite twice being removed from Iraq for his critical statements about the U.S. military leadership. Remarkably, he has spent his time in Iraq largely as an independent reporter and blogger rather than an associate of a massive media network. As such, he offers a unique voice—one that is vastly different from what we are accustomed to hearing on CNN or reading in the New York Times. He also offers, at least in my eyes, unique credibility as he is required to follow no agenda but his own. In Moment of Truth in Iraq he offers his assessment of the conflict in Iraq so far and some prediction as to what will have to transpire in the months and years ahead if the United States is to conclude the campaign successfully.

Though Yon was at one time a critic of the U.S. handling of the war, the focus of his book is the remarkable transformation that has occurred under the leadership of General David Petraeus. Since Petraeus assumed command, he has focused on moving soldiers away from isolated bases far removed from the population and instead on placing the soldiers where the Iraqi citizens are. This strategy has proven very effective with casualty rates falling to their lowest levels in years. U.S. soldiers are working with and among the Iraqi people to rebuild the nation and to provide the security that has so long been lacking. There have been setbacks, to be sure, but the trajectory seems encouraging. He illustrates this with story after story drawn from his own eyewitness accounts at the front lines of the war. He is so close to the action that on at least one occasion he has dropped his camera, grabbed a rifle, and, relying on his training as a Green Beret, has charged into a room of militants.

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Those who have not heard of Yon will surely at least be familiar with one of his photographs. He took what has become an iconic photo for the Second Gulf War. In the photo, which was voted as TIME magazine’s photograph of the year in 2005, U.S. Army Major Mark Bieger gently cradles a little Iraqi girl who has been wounded by shrapnel from a car bomb. The girl was rushed to hospital by U.S. soldiers but, tragically, quickly succumbed to her wounds. This photo stands as symbolic of the war—an American soldier brokenhearted at the devastation Iraqis are bringing to their own nation.

For those who are entirely skeptical about the war in Iraq and about the direction it is heading, this book will prove, I think, that the Americans are making some headway and are doing some good. Whether or not this is a just war will be for the history books to decide, I suppose, but the reality is that the U.S. cannot simply withdraw at this time. There is far too much to lose. Yon seeks to prove, and indeed does prove, that Petraeus’ new strategy is working and that the United States military is making great strides in Iraq. Free from the bias that pollutes so much of the mainstream media, Yon offers an account of the war that is poignant, stirring, and encouraging. It is well worth the read.

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