"Whatever the rights and wrongs of this war, it would be a tragedy to fail [the Iraqi people] now, simply because we all grew tired of trying."
--- Major Chris Hunter
Fans of combat memoirs and war reporting probably have more choices now than at any time since the aftermath of World War II in the late 1940s. For obvious reasons, most of the books are by and about Americans.
But two new memoirs by elite soldiers from U.S. military allies are especially revealing -- not only because they are terrific accounts of brave men fighting the good fight but also because each comes from a nation that has been on the frontlines of fighting terrorists since long before 2001.
The books – British army bomb specialist Chris Hunter's Eight Lives Down and former Israeli commando Aaron Cohen's Brotherhood of Warriors – take similar tough-minded attitudes about the need to resist jihadists, but the authors could hardly have come from more different places.
Hunter, the middle-class son of a WWII veteran who had flashbacks from watching Danger UXB on the BBC, essentially followed in his father's footsteps. Cohen, meanwhile, was a spoiled Hollywood rich kid who found his purpose in life after his movie producer stepfather sent him away to military school.
While Hunter has seen action in both Northern Ireland and Colombia, Eight Lives Down mostly recounts his time in Basra, Iraq, where he defused IEDs and hunted down the bombmakers (some of whom, he is sure, are supplied by Iran).
A likeable and engaging narrator, Hunter mixes the personal and professional in the classic tradition of such other British combat memoirs as legless WWII British fighter ace Douglas Bader's Fight for the Sky. Hunter is passionate about his mission but also honest about the toll his job takes on his family.
Eight Lives Down is at its best when the author recounts the horror and savagery of an implacable enemy who thinks nothing of slaughtering the innocent and leaving men like Hunter to clean up after them. Too often, rather than disarming a bomb, Hunter is called to the scene of a blast to conduct a forensic investigation while others assist the wounded and dying.
Hunter has no sympathy for the aims or imagined grievances of the enemy, whether it's radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Iranian-backed militia or Sunnis supplied by al Qaeda. His only goal is to put them out of business.
In a similar vein, Cohen begins Brotherhood of Warriors in the blood-soaked aftermath of one of Israel's worst suicide bomber attacks, the 1996 Dizengoff Mall massacre in Tel Aviv.
For Cohen, it was a fitting end to a brutal training regimen in which he became the first American-born member of Sayeset Duvdevan, Israel's most secret and best-trained counterterrorist special forces unit – he was immediately confronted with the evil he had volunteered to combat before he'd even had a chance to deploy.
Later, posing as an American journalist, Cohen would take down one of the financiers of the Dizengoff bombing in savage hand-to-hand combat with the terrorist and his bodyguards.
While nearly all of Eight Lives Down takes place during the author's tour of duty in Iraq, Brotherhood of Warriors follows a similar track to many memoirs of special forces-types, taking the reader through every punishing detail of the narrator's training.
The efforts of the Israeli trainers to beat any doubts out of Cohen and his compatriots' minds, and the culminating nonstop desert march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem are enough to make a Navy SEAL wince.
Finally, the new Sayeset Duvdevan members are sent unarmed into Palestinian-controlled territory to test their training and to learn to blend in. Cohen is not quite diplomatic in describing Hamas and Fatah neighborhoods as being "street gang" turf where every eye is against him, and the pathology of violence runs deep.
The duty of operating in this manner, running snatch-and-grab operations and frequent gun battles with terrorists, takes a mental toll very quickly, and the operatives are rotated out of the field after a tour that is hardly longer than their elaborate and expensive training lasted.
While liberals whine that the war against jihadists already has lasted longer than World War II – as though that's a valid comparison – Cohen and Hunter argue in favor of hunkering down for the long haul.
Hunter's job may have been disarming IEDs, but it was his offensive operation to bring down Basra's primary bombmakers that gave him the most satisfaction. And Cohen, now a security expert in the private sector, argues that focusing on defensive measures cedes the initiative to terrorists. The only way to beat terrorists, Cohen argues, is to take the fight to them -- and kill them.
Eight Lives Down and Brotherhood of Warriors are heroic, riveting and instructive — and, to boot, they're the perfect remedy to prevailing media and educational propaganda for young skulls full of mush.