Going to war

2008-03-26 00:00

This is a very strange book. At first glance it looks to be another Jarhead, Anthony Swofford’s brilliant insider look at the first Gulf War. But Leo Docherty has neither Swofford’s descriptive gifts, or his intelligence. Subtitled A Soldier’s Journey from Iraq to Afghanistan, this is the story of a British hooray-Henry who goes to war, finds he doesn’t like the way it’s being run and resigns. Fair enough, but what exactly did he expect? Docherty comes across as an upper-class twit who seems to think he’s still running around on a globe where most of the map is British-Empire-pink. He talks about being “mustard keen” for action and seems to have no sense that war might be other than some kind of Boy’s Own adventure. One keeps reading in the hope he is about to have some kind of epiphany that will see him wake up to reality, but no, it just continues in the same vein until, outraged at military incompetence, Docherty resigns, goes public over his dissatisfaction and writes this book (the paperback edition comes with a new epilogue). One is left thoroughly perplexed: how did a respectable literary imprint like Faber and Faber even consider publishing it?

Stephen Coan

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