13 March 2006

On the Ground

Every so often, something shows up in The New York Times that makes me feel the expensive subscription is worth it. Sure, the "paper of record" has good reporters and very good columnists, especially Bob Herbert, Frank Rich, and Paul Krugman. But I'm not talking about writers who report and comment, however skillfully. I'm talking about someone who is not a professional writer on assignment, but rather a person engaged in activity on the front lines who gives us a glimpse of what life is like in the hot zone. The March 12, 2006, issue of The New York Times Magazine carries just such a firsthand report on the back page. Titled "The Waiting," it's written by Brian Mockenhaupt, who served two tours in Iraq as an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division. Mockenhaupt's account is not long--about 1,000 words--but he conveys, with clear, powerful language, what it's like to confront death all the time, day in, day out, 24/7. After pointing out that the bomb, the improvised explosive device (IED), is "the main way to die in this war," he tells us why:
Everywhere you look, there's a possibility. The bombs are hidden in dead dogs, dead donkeys, trash piles and fruit stands, parked cars and moving cars. They're stuffed in sewer pipes, hung from overpasses and tucked behind street signs. Any place is a good place to slip, strap or bury a bomb.
A couple of paragraphs later, Mockenhaupt sums up the danger: "This is the problem with looking for bombs: They're hidden well, so you have to be close to find them. And if you do find one, you're probably too close."

A writer's bio at the end of the piece informs us that Mockenhaupt is working on a book about the military. I don't know about you, but I'm buying a copy as soon as it hits the shelves.