Memoir is too refined word for the book called Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War. It’s a gutsy, keenly observed tale gleaned from the experiences of a U.S. platoon during 16 months in Iraq. The story dives strongly and completely into its ‘raw and angry and ugly story’, as the author calls it. You are instantly stuffed into the ramped interior of a rolling-thug of a road vehicle that is designed to protect you – but cannot guarantee it. You sweep down broken roadways in this aggressive-looking ‘target’, looking out for enemies that you can’t identify easily. As reader, you share the confinement, confusion and uncertainties of that kind of war.
The clear, honest and often ironic confessions of his and his comrade’s fears and hopes fuel the sardonic, strongly private imagination of the young platoon leader. Motivation for being in Iraq at all seems to have developed while Gallagher stumbled through beer binges and war game sessions back home. Now though, he affirms that his goal in Kaboom to be ‘intellectually honest and accurate to the deployment experience’ - and he tackles that task gamely.
Matt Gallagher stands back far enough to sketch a view-point that’s sensitive to the conversations floating around the base and continuing in bulky, noisy vehicles, as the soldiers bounced over rutted road remnants in the triangular region that enclosed his forty-five or so colleagues. His blog-like episodic account grabbed daily episodes and sometimes, trekked through some slightly overblown bursts of private mind-mapping. In the end what divides the book from most other eye-witness accounts seems to be that Gallagher drew out a precise mini-view. Though semi-isolated, he produced a description of a relentless, wasteful encounter between two cultures who neither understood one another nor the reasons for their conflict. Gallagher was of course, not the first person who loped around the Middle East scarcely knowing his way, but he found another ‘savage war of peace’ — as Rudyard Kipling once described insurgencies and counter-insurgency operations. Kipling’s phrase: ‘war of peace,’ generated a constant ring of tension and reaction in Iraq that was hard for individual soldiers to cope with, then and later on.
A sheik’s corpse raises the question: ‘Who’s who?’
The writer-soldier proved to be is a quick learner. Setting the scene of U.S. military’s operations and purposes, Gallagher’s memoir began with a brief ‘prologue’ based on a report radioed an armored military vehicle (MRV), about the ‘possible’ sighting of a local sheik’s body. The victim was named in US army chat as ‘Boss Johnson’. ‘Boss’ appeared to have been blown up on the night before. Gallagher said, “Armored military vehicles were damaged, and occasionally destroyed, by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rockets, and mortar rounds. Human beings in shabby, fake Mercedes targeted for a hit job with such weapons got catastrophically mutilated into flesh soup.”