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The March Up

Over the weekend, I read Hard Rain (there second in a great noir series) and The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division. The second of these is a fine piece of personal reporting by two men who covered the 1100 kilometers from the Gulf to the capitol, and a good summary of the excellent job of the US military in fighting the war. It's a painful reminder of how unprepared we were for the "peace" — the book documents that the strategy was entirely about winning quickly. Given its publication hard on the heels of the author's return from Iraq, it does leave one with the strange sense that taking Baghdad was the mission, and we're done with it.

But it's more than that. The two authors are former Marines, Vietnam veterans, and obviously sympathetic both to the current generation of Marines and to the Iraqi civilians and soldiers. It's clear that, in their view, Saddam's army was a bit of a joke, requiring fedayeen terror tactics to keep the regulars fighting. The book makes it clear that many fights (even early) were between US forces and fedayeen hiding in civilian populations, and also provides a good sense of the role of rumors, the caches of weapons in every school, and US friendly fire, screw-ups, reversals, and surprises. The authors don't pretend that the Marines got it all right the first time, or that they are somehow martial saints. And they discuss US casualties, some offhandedly, some rather more painful.

In one example, The March Up clearly shows the US thinking about the value of various targets. An oil pumping station is referred to as the "Crown Jewel", and considered the Marine's most important objective on Day 1 of the war. Capturing it intact prevented an environmental disaster, but also showed (on Day 1) that not everyone saw the US as liberators.

The March Up provides — for anyone who hasn't been to the Middle East as part of an invading army — a good sense for the terrain, the tactical problems of the riflemen and tankers, and the absurdity of some Iraqi beliefs about US military power. The reporting doesn't pretend to be unbiased or comprehensive, but serves as a fine document of what US Marines can do.

Someone needs to write the same sort of book about the guerilla war that we've faced since April.

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