The Tender Soldier

I recently sat down at a Starbucks to start reading The Tender Soldier by Vanessa M. Gezari. Three hours later I emerged, having consumed the book in one sitting, filling both front and back covers with notes in the process.

I have read quite a few books about Afghanistan but too often military jargon and statistical data make them difficult to follow. The Tender Soldier avoids such pitfalls by seamlessly weaving together personal accounts and painstakingly researched facts to paint a very human picture of America’s shortcomings in Afghanistan. The book recounts the heinous attack on Paula Loyd, an American soldier/anthropologist and member of the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System serving in Afghanistan. The purpose of the Human Terrain System was to address the “cultural tone deafness” of American units deployed to Afghanistan by embedding social scientists into infantry battalions. These scientists were to gather data on local tribes, customs and conduct extensive field interviews in order to encourage cultural awareness and understanding among U.S. forces. However, for all its good intentions the HTS was an exercise in incompetence, with plenty of funding but no clear direction.

In this book, I heard echoes of my husband’s voice over the static of a satellite phone as he sat at his patrol base in Afghanistan. The subtle shifts in his demeanor spoke of a progression from hope to frustration as it became clear that this was not a war anyone would win. As HTS team member Clint Cooper remarks in the book, “The percentage of bad Taliban, what is that? Five, ten percent maybe? The rest are just trying to survive. Where is the evil? This war is just crazy. There’s no good or bad.”

I could go on, but in the interest of keeping your interest, I’ll just reiterate how important and how terribly powerful The Tender Soldier is.

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