Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Book Review: Blood Brothers

Non-Fiction Look at Disability

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.

Extremely Readable

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.


Disability Blogger said...

re:"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 come from a military family (grandfather, father, both uncles, and all male cousins served), was born in a military hospital, and was raised on army posts. Without a doubt, the culture is definitely different and distinct. Even my cousin Michael (who recently returned from Iraq and was also involved in the first gulf war), who is opposed to the current administration politically, refrains from analyzing the basis for the current war, and its justness or appropriateness, too deeply. I think the feeling of the troops in the field is that "we're here, there's no point debating why we're here because we can't change it". And those who do debate such issues openly may be met with hostility within the ranks. Dissension smacks of nonconformity and threatens unit cohesion and effectiveness. Regarding those who have sustained injuries, in many instances disabling, it would be difficult to come to the conclusion that such personal losses were the result of an ill-thought, poorly planned, or even "wrong" war.

Without a doubt, the planning on Iraq was very bad. In fact, when the army chief of staff disagreed with Rumsfeld on troop requirements for the invasion, he was promptly fired and retired. Regarding the public's perception on the rationale and justness of this war, I think the last midterm election addressed that.

BTW, great blog Teri

Anonymous said...

I am going to buy the book. Terri has done a good review.

But then, this book, as I understand, is about disability and not about the ethics of war...

When I finish reading, I will again leave a commnet about the book.

Let me leave it at that...