My Life after Iraq
Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2019, 280 pages
Book Review published on: August 2, 2019
War Flower is the personal account of Brooke King, who in 2006, deployed with the U.S. Army to Iraq. King begins her story as a young soldier, impressionable yet strong willed. King’s journey goes beyond her combat experience to her return as a hardened vet, and then to the emotionally corrosive and debilitating impacts of her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her storytelling is raw and at times quite graphic, taking the reader into uncomfortable topics like her experiences with domestic violence and rape.
King provides a fascinating and relevant perspective of a junior-enlisted female soldier on modern armed conflict. Trained as a vehicle mechanic, she was assigned to a recovery team that had two missions: to recover damaged vehicles and to bring back the dead. Her assignment led her and her fellow soldiers into daily contact with hostile locals and deadly insurgents on the violent Iraqi streets. The strain of collecting bodies, recovering destroyed vehicles, and being repeatedly exposed to enemy action took an immense emotional toll.
King details the character of twenty-first-century urban warfare: the merging of technology and age-old weapons. She describes the insurgents’ use of improvised explosive devices (i.e., how they were planted in the trash, in cars, and even in cadavers) and how cell phones were used to trigger the deadly explosions. She tells how women and children were used as suicide bombers. She tells of rooftop shooters and the heart-stopping sound of incoming mortars. King removes any veneer of warfare’s romanticism with her clear-eyed account of its deadly results.
The book is more than a first-hand account of Iraqi conflict; it spans the author’s life. It is written as a series of short, detailed memories of her childhood, deployment, life after the army, romances, family, and mistakes. It is logical and well structured, and it provides a unique and interesting read. King covers the gamut of emotions in her story telling: fear, loneliness, confusion, happiness, rebellion, overwhelming sadness, and relationship dissonance with the people she loves. In the end, she finds a place of equilibrium, at peace with who she is and in control of her PTSD and life.
The story provides powerful testimony to the crippling effect of PTSD: how combatants feel shame and frustration with the symptoms that afflict them (e.g., sleeplessness, anxiety, panic, bouts of rage, and the pushing away of those they care about); how combat trauma strips soldiers of their humanity, extinguishes their former selves, and makes integration into their former civilian lives almost impossible; and how the shame of survivor’s guilt and being labeled as crazy only adds to their emotional distress.
The book provides a unique female perspective on combat and the aftershocks of PTSD. King does not play victim to what happened to her but owns her life experience. Her storytelling provides context to how events in her life forged her into the woman she became. A very personal and vivid story, War Flower is an excellent book regarding the unseen wounds of conflict and the scars they leave.
Book Review written by: Col. Robert Sherrill, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas