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Book Review: In a Time of War

In a Time of War , by Bill Murphy Jr.

To be perfectly honest I have not read a lot of books about the recent conflicts our nation finds itself involved in. Events and situations that are as complex as war rarely lend themselves to comprehensive analysis at so early a point. In a Time of War however is not a history of Iraqi Freedom or Afghanistan, but a poignant, satisfying snapshot of the lives of the men and women who graduated from West Point in 2002, and the impact that experience had on their lives and the lives of those close to them.

For those who have never served – in war or peace – the military is an enigma at best; at worst a caricature of martial reality. The military is a place where even cynics find themselves at least temporary true believers in the slogans and watchwords of military life and lore. And while even the most reverent find their faith tested in battle – a situation War brings up on several occasions – there is always a part of a soldier that can still find honor in the midst of horror. The book does nothing to hide the fact that the Army offers only a love-hate relationship, but it is neither expose nor fluff piece; simply a factual narration of life as an American warrior.

It was hard to find any serious nits to pick, perhaps because as a former soldier my experience (absent the attendance at West Point) was not all that dissimilar to the subjects of the book: I cannot see myself back in uniform today, but I still miss the service; I have felt the rush of pride in accomplishment, and the crushing blow of bureaucracy; I have risked being plowed under after witnessing the evil that men can do, and yet found salvation in amazingly dark places. What few notations dealing with politics or policy there are in the book are less diatribe than they are statement of fact and heart-felt response.

While the Army prides itself on turning out soldiers with certain commonalities, the portraits painted of the primary subjects of the book reflect distinct individuality. There are no automatons here, only people dealing with a litany of tough choices that they willingly took on in a quest to become a part of something greater than themselves. Having sampled that life their paths diverted, much as they probably would have had they all gone to the same college and been members of the same fraternity (though no frat I'm aware of challenges their members on par with the crucible of war). Soldiers are people too, and this is as good story about the soldier's life as any I have read.

To paraphrase a bit of graffiti noted in the book, which you have probably seen elsewhere, West Point's class of 2002 went to war, while most everyone else who graduated from college that year went to the mall. In a Time of War is the communiqué between this generation's "greatest" class and everyone else.