Places and Names

Places and Names

On War, Revolution, and Returning

Elliot Ackerman

Penguin Press, New York, 2019, 256 pages

Book Review published on: July 26, 2019

Places and Names is a searing account of one man’s personal experience with modern armed conflict and his effort to make sense of it. Elliot Ackerman is a journalist, a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer with five combat tours, and a recipient of both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. His actions in Afghanistan and Iraq provide context for a warrior searching to understand the greater meaning of the hardships he and others have endured and to what end has been paid the high price of human suffering and loss.

Ackerman’s style is part investigative reporter searching for truth and part combat marine’s memoirs. Ackerman sets the scenes both visually and emotionally with descriptive images of the violence and destruction created by the years of fighting and revolution. Globe-trotting across the greater Middle East, Ackerman travels to combat zones, refugee camps, devastated cities, and other difficult-to-reach locales looking for people, places, and answers.

Ackerman finds himself pulled back to the region where he endured so much. At one point, he suspects that he keeps going back to the war-ravaged region because of the loss of life’s intensity outside of it. He writes about the value of his relationships with his fellow marines both alive and fallen, his daughter Coco, and his personal friends. He describes how the wars have created an irony of those human connections, how enemies can become friends. In one example, he explains meeting with a former al-Qaida member, and through their shared experiences they develop a personal connection and affinity for one another.

As the story line unfolds, it becomes clear to the reader about the author’s intention of returning to these war torn areas. He searches to see if progress has been made in his battlegrounds of Falluja and for the Iraqi Kurds. He looks at the impacts of new threats like the Islamic State and the Syrian revolution in the region and examines their toll on the Syrian people and life at the Turkish border. He seeks to better understand how and why these conflicts endure and the fragile security situation that persists.

The book recounts the author’s actions during the Second Battle of Falluja, the U.S. Marine Corps offensive to clear the city of an entrenched enemy. The battle was the most intense urban combat the Marines had faced since the Vietnam War. Ackerman describes in gritty detail urban combat and the challenges of small-unit leadership. Like an action movie, he recounts the vicious house-to-house fights, the ambushes, the emotional and physical exhaustion, and the loss of life. The book is a worthy read for anyone interested in military or international affairs. Ackerman provides ample examples of small-unit actions and heroism in a combat. He also does a fine job exposing the intricate and complex geopolitical landscape that embroils the Middle East and has mired U.S. military action for nearly two decades. Relevant, personal, and powerful, Places and Names is an excellent read regarding modern conflict.

Book Review written by: Col. Robert Sherrill, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas