Book Review: Chasing Ghosts by Paul Rieckhoff

Posted: July 12, 2007 in military


There are a lot of books being published today telling the truth about the Iraq war. This one gives us a soldier’s perspective on it, and as with most things warlike, it isn’t pretty.

Paul Rieckhoff, a young Lieutenant in the Army National Guard, volunteered to serve in Iraq even though he thought the reasons for the invasion were “bullshit”. Once there, he battled alternately with a mission not clearly defined (when it was defined at all), an incompetent and unsupportive chain of command, and civilian leadership that had no understanding of the enormity of the task at hand.

The majority of the book is taken up with Rieckhoff’s accounts of his experiences in Iraq, from the initial boredom and tedium waiting in Kuwait for attack orders that never came (until after the President’s poorly worded “Mission Accomplished” speech) to his units first four months in Baghdad’s poorly patrolled and lawless Sector 17, and through the next eight months as the tours of the National Guardsmen were repeatedly and indefinitely extended.

He discusses with brutal honesty the lies, obfuscations, evasions and incompetence of both the military and civilian leadership in Iraq and Washington. He shows no mercy when discussing the complete lack of planning and strategy that has led to the failure of the mission in Iraq.

He takes us through the culture shock of returning home from the war, and the difficulties he and his men faced in both re-integrating into civilian life and dealing with an unsympathetic and unresponsive military bureaucracy.

Rieckhoff spares no punches for anyone, and has no patience for fools on either the right or the left. When Sean Hannity (of Fox’s Hannity & Colmes) asks him “What are you doing to my president?” Rieckhoff shoots back with “What is your president doing to my country?” When the Kerry campaign decides to ignore Iraq in favor of a war that happened 30 years ago, Reickhoff has no further use for them and forms his own organization, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association.

Rieckhoff has been accused of being arrogant, mostly by civilians who have never served. What I saw was not arrogance, but confidence, strength and a take-no-prisoners attitude forged in the heat of combat. He states at one time that leadership in combat tests a man’s mettle in ways no civilian job is capable of, and he’s right. Running a corporation isn’t true leadership, it’s just management. True leadership can only really be learned in battle.

“Chasing Ghosts” is written from a soldier’s perspective, in a soldier’s style. The language may put some people off, but if you don’t want brutal, unflinching honesty, don’t read it. If you want the truth, I can’t recommend it enough.

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