A couple of months ago, I got an email from Michael Weisskopf's publicist, asking if I would review "Blood Brothers" if he sent me a free copy. A sucker for any free book, I said yes immediately.
I was interested in this take on disability: Michael Weisskopf, a reporter for Time, was imbedded with a unit in Iraq when his right hand was blown off when a grenade was thrown into the truck in which he was riding. He actually attempted to throw the grenade out of the truck before it went off, and consequently was credited with saving the lives of everyone there, including himself.
Personal, not Political
Weisskopf's book is steadfastly neutral on the issue of the whether or not the war in Iraq is justified or reasonable, or that the sacrifices made by the soldiers on which he focuses are "good" ones. This left me wondering what Weisskopf himself thinks about the war. It is clear from the book, however, that none of the soldiers, who lost arms and/or legs, question whether or not these losses flow from a "just" war, or an intelligently fought one.
I found this a little incredible, but then, I am not immersed in military culture. In one case, there was a soldier who appeared in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was furious with Moore when he realized that his footage was used to convey an antiwar message. I believe that in order to ensure his subjects' cooperation, as well as to honor their unflagging belief in the righteousness of their cause and country, Weisskopf tiptoes around the issue of the reasons and execution of the war itself.
The book moves right along and I read it compulsively, even though I rarely read non-fiction. I wanted to know whether or not Weisskopf and his military "blood brothers" successfully adjusted to their respective disabilities.
I was relieved when Weisskopf stopped wanting to hide his amputation in favor of a much more functional and comfortable hook, in lieu of a high-tech electronic prosthetic with a hand-painted latex hand.
I was dismayed that the soldier who was a double leg amputee felt shamed by using a wheelchair, even though his prostheses caused him so much pain that he had to take heavy-duty painkillers to walk anywhere.
Rehab in Walter Reed
Weisskopf's description of his experience with rehab in Walter Reed, the military hospital in Washington D.C., was very interesting. His description of some of the people who work at Walter Reed, from nurses to volunteers were good "slice of life" characterizations -- but left me wanting more.
The Body-Armored Elephant in the Room
When Weisskopf started writing this book, I don't think the war in Iraq had become so unpopular, nor the general populace so uneasy with the whole package of the war: the justifications, the American losses, the increasing violence, the decreasing clarity about how we get out and when. Reading the book now, it is hard not to keep coming back to those questions, and as I said above, Weisskopf's respect for the soldier's pro-war, pro-military positions kept him from exploring those questions.
It would be interesting to read a follow-up -- either another book or a long magazine article -- about the continuing evolution of how all of the men, including the author, adjusted to their disabilities. As compelling, though, would be a "gloves-off" discussion of was it all worth it in the first place.