cover image American Soldier: Stories of Special Forces from Iraq to Afghanistan

American Soldier: Stories of Special Forces from Iraq to Afghanistan

Clint Willis. Da Capo Press, $17.95 (364pp) ISBN 978-1-56025-438-6

In an age of laser bombs and pilotless drones, intimate contact with battle is increasingly the province of elite commandos; this collection of journalism, memoir and fiction about Green Berets and Navy SEALS charts their combat experiences. The material is in reverse chronological order, starting with Robert Pelton's gung-ho account of Green Berets calling in air strikes on the Taliban. The mood darkens with an excerpt from Mark Bowden's report on the disastrous Mogadishu battle, Black Hawk Down, and a look at the torpor of peacekeeping in Haiti from Tracy Kidder. Philip Taubman writes of Green Berets carrying out assassinations and training terrorists in the course of America's clandestine dirty wars of the '70s and '80s. A number of pieces revisit the brutality and moral chaos of Vietnam, including Jeff Stein's noirish account of the murder of a Viet Cong agent and Tim O'Brien's surreal tale of an Ohio high school girl who leads a Green Beret unit into the heart of darkness. Although occasionally marred by soldier-of-fortune braggadocio and sentimentalized scenes of warriors communing with the souls of men they have killed, the selections here are well written and gripping. 16 b&w photos.