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Monday, October 21, 2013

To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind

The premise of this book grabbed me because I care very much about politics, foreign policy, and how we treat those whom we come into contact. This is Kirk W. Johnson's To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. 

In the early years of the war, Kirk Johnson joined USAid to do good work--to use his extensive knowledge of Arabic to aid the Iraqi people in the reconstruction of their country after the American invasion. During a vacation with six months left on his contract, he falls into a fugue state and becomes seriously injured, requiring months of rehabilitation. After realizing that he can never go back, Kirk finds himself the spokesperson for Iraqi citizens who worked for the US through agencies and relief organization who live in fear and have become refugees due to death threats, fear, and outright torture by their fellow countrymen. As Kirk dives in, he finds a government unwilling to help those who have given their heart, soul, and sometimes their lives to aid the US.

I make an effort to not involve my personal politics, beliefs, and religion into this blog because I view it as a fun place to talk about books that I love. I enjoy waxing joyful on prose and great stories without putting anyone off because you don't agree with me. Ultimately literature surpasses our divided beliefs, and that is something I hold on to with all my might.

However, sometimes a book comes along that pulls at my heart so much that I become the impassioned woman that I am on a daily basis. This is one of those books. We may not agree, and that is fine. I urge you to take to the comments section in a civilized and discursive manner, supporting your points with heart and with care.

This book has stolen my heart, broken it, and galvanized my mind. Regardless of how you feel about the war in Iraq, the fact that our government has outright ignored the help we received from Iraqis during times of war is painful and egregious. It is not terribly shocking, however. It makes sense, and that is the greatest tragedy of Johnson's tale--the lack of surprise at the government's inefficiency, uncaring attitude, and complete waste of taxpayer dollars. I am a humanist, and I have always had a deep sense of justice and empathy, often to a fault. Listening to Johnson recount his struggles and those of the Iraqis running for their lives, in the most literal sense, brought me to tears. The trust of the workers, in the United States and in their co-workers, is enough to bring you to your knees. I wanted to yell at them to not take the job--but I speak in hindsight. Which, as any grown-up knows, is 20/20.

I wish that I could find Johnson and thank him deeply and unflinchingly for the courage to not just write this book but to fight the good fight for those who can't fight for themselves, be it out of fear or due to a lack of understanding and options. I understand the pull to do this, and I know the personal struggle that comes with the decision to make a leap, pull all the punches, and not be afraid to piss people off. It takes guts to not be selfish--it takes courage to focus on others rather than yourself. I would give him a big hug, thank him for listening to the voice in his head that made him a justice-seeking humanitarian, and tell him to get back to work. Can you imagine what our government would be like if we had more Kirk Johnson's?

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right. 

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