Book Review: Readings

A Texan veteran's memoir on combat and its devastating aftereffects


Two Wars: One Hero's Fight on Two Fronts – Abroad and Within

by Nate Self
Tyndale House Publishers, 400 pp., $22.99

Nate Self is a bona fide war hero, who as a U.S. Army Ranger captain in 2002 led his platoon on an ill-fated rescue mission to an Afghanistan mountainside. Tied down for hours by enemy fighters and waiting desperately for reinforcements and air support, seven of Self's group were killed, and he was wounded – among the very first casualties of the war – and he subsequently received a Silver Star for valor, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. (The story gained greater fame last year, when NBC's Dateline reconstructed what it called the "Rescue on Roberts Ridge," after the dead Navy SEAL whom Self and his men were sent to rescue.) Self, a native Texan, also spent some time in Kosovo, as well as Iraq, and eventually returned home with the severe psychological wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder, the second of his book's "two wars": "the war with real bullets and blood and dying, and the one with much worse things than dying." With the help of family, friends, and military health care, Self recovered from the worst effects of PTSD, and his book is in part a recounting of his recovery and his subsequent work in reaching out to other veterans still in need of healing.

The heroic action of the rescue on Takur Ghar Mountain centers Self's tale rather than dominates it. The bulk of the lengthy book is devoted to his life story as a military man, via West Point and then the Rangers, and displays the uneasy combination of martial zeal and evangelical Christianity now so endemic to U.S. military culture. One doesn't doubt either Self's gung-ho zest for soldiers and soldiering or his religious devotion (at one point he convinces himself that he has not blasphemed under fire, only prayed aloud). But at length, it finally seems odd that he embraces without question the unlikely affinity between U.S. militarism and Christian zeal: "It seemed that [God] even had a plan to take those worse things and use them to make greater things." In this, at least, fighting Muslims in Kosovo or Iraq, or al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, we have become the mirror image of our enemies.

"Two wars" is frankly a low estimate for the number of combat operations, physical and spiritual, that Self and his comrades signed up for.

Nate Self will discuss and sign copies of Two Wars at BookPeople, Sunday, July 27, 3pm.

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