Thank You for Your Service (Finkel)

Thank You for Your Service 
David Finkel, 2013
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780374180669

A profound look at life after war.

The wars of the past decade have been covered by brave and talented reporters, but none has reckoned with the psychology of these wars as intimately as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel.

For The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the infamous “surge,” a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed them all forever. In Finkel’s hands, readers can feel what these young men were experiencing, and his harrowing story instantly became a classic in the literature of modern war.

In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel has done something even more extraordinary. Once again, he has embedded with some of the men of the 2-16—but this time he has done it at home, here in the States, after their deployments have ended. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like—not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done.

The story Finkel tells is mesmerizing, impossible to put down. With his unparalleled ability to report a story, he climbs into the hearts and minds of those he writes about. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of these two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Education—B.A., University of Florida
Awards—Pulitzer Prize; J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize;
   Robert F. Kennedy Awards for Excellence in Journalism
Currently—lives in the Washington, D.C. area

David Louis Finkel is an American journalist. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 as a staff writer at the Washington Post. He wrote The Good Soldiers and Thank You for Your Service. He is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.

Finkel's book The Good Soldiers describes several months he spent in 2007 as an embedded reporter with 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, also known as the "2-16 Rangers," as they worked to stabilize a portion of Baghdad.

The logs of Bradley Manning's IM chats with Adrian Lamo state that Finkel had the video which was released as Collateral Murder by Wikileaks but did not release it. Finkel has never publicly disclosed whether he had the video or not. In a webchat, he said, "I based the account in my book The Good Soldiers on multiple sources, all unclassified. Without going into details, I'll say the best source of information was being there [in Iraq]." (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/20/2013.)

Book Reviews
This is a heartbreaking book powered by the candor with which these veterans and their families have told their stories, the intimate access they have given Mr. Finkel…into their daily lives, and their own eloquence in speaking about their experiences…The stories of the soldiers and their families portrayed in Thank You for Your Service possess a visceral and deeply affecting power…that will haunt readers long after they have finished this book
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times.

As he did in The Good Soldiers, Finkel absents himself from the narrative, immersing the reader in the quotidian life of soldiers and their families. Thank You for Your Service is elegantly reported, free of the entanglements of crusading self-aggrandizement on the one hand and, on the other, an overidentification with its subjects. Finkel refuses to pathologize soldiers, even as he concentrates on the 20 to 30 percent who have been psychologically damaged to some degree by their service in Iraq or Afghanistan…This is not—nor should it be—an easy book. But it is an essential one. Finkel refuses to gild the misery and ugliness of the last decade and the unpoetic aftermath of war with the kind of sentimentality that has so often clouded our thinking, not only about our military commitments but also about the veterans they produce
Elizabeth D. Samet - New York Times Book Review

(Starred review.) These soldiers have names and daughters and bad habits and hopes, and though they have left the war in Iraq, the Iraq War has not left them. Now the battle consists of readjusting to civilian and family life, and bearing the often unbearable weight of their demons.... [T]heir stories give new meaning to the costs of service.
Publishers Weekly

Finkel did an extraordinary job of explaining the Iraq War in The Good Soldiers.... Now he brings the war home, following many of the same men as they try to figure out how to engage again with both family and society.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Finkel delivers one of the most morally responsible works of journalism to emerge from the post-9/11 era.... [T]he breadth and depth of his portraits of the men and women scarred by the 21st century's conflicts are startling.... The truly astonishing aspect of Finkel's work is that he remains completely absent from his reportage; he is still embedded. A real war story with a jarring but critical message for the American people.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to get a discussion started for Thank You for Your Service:

1. What kind of hope do these soldiers have to develop a reasonably "normal" life given their lingering physical and psychological wounds?

2. What was the emotional impact this book had on you? What were your primary and secondary responses: sadness, anger, frustration, a sense of unfairness, guilt? Anything else?

3. Talk about the individual soldiers whose stories most struck you. Adam Schumann, for example: how did he change over the course of the war? What was his attitude going in and, after three combat tours, coming back about? Or Tausolo Aieti—what hope does he have in life?

4. What do we owe the men and women who return from the wars? In what way is society living up to its obligations...and in what way is it failing to do so?

5. What could be done better to help these veterans readjust to civilian life?

6. Are you related to any veterans? Are you yourself a veteran? How does Finkel's book resonate with your experiences?

7. Nic DeNinno continues to be haunted by the memory of breaking into a house, throwing a man downstairs, hearing a woman scream and seeing a baby covered with shards of glass—only to be teold later by his lieutenant that they'd "hit the wrong house." Nic feels, he says, "like a monster." Should he feel responsible for that mistake or others like it? What would you say to him if you were called upon to counsel him?

8. Talk about the urge many veterans have to commit suicide? What would you say to someone to dissuade him or her from taking his own life?

9. Are the two current wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, different from the other wars this country has fought? Why does it seem that so many veterans are returning  emotionally or mentally shattered from these confrontations? Or are we simply more aware this time round of the damage that combat can do to the psyche?

10. What is Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff, told about the state of brain/neuroscience when it comes to helping victims of PSTD? How well does the underlying ethos of the military, its CAN DO! orientation, cope with the slow, even passive, pace of mental health recovery?

11. What do you predict for Adam and Saskia Schumann?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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