I don’t know how you rate a book like this. The skill is not in the writing but in the recognizing. Like a photographer. The “author” writes as a journalist, guiding people down this deep dark chasm in their soul and transcribing their thoughts and feelings and images as faithfully and evocatively as possible. There are many “voices” even within this book, let alone without, that say “just forget it, it’s over, don’t condescend to call our loss a mistake.” The moral good of exposing an unjust war is the hope that the next generation will be less likely to enter into one in their time. I was always taught to love the soldier, hate the war. Honor the soldier, disdain the war, and not to conflate the two. This is as starkly true and as deftly respected in this book as in accounts of the American Vietnam War. The average age of Soviet soldiers being sent to Afghanistan was 19. The public was told nothing. This book guides us through the process of mourning the lives lost to folly and forgiving the survivors for their contributions to a great international wrong. But this book is only a first step. There is not a single testimony mourning the loss of Afghan life or a single apology from an official decision-maker of the time. As in the Nuremberg Trials, the ones at the bottom were “just following orders” and the ones at the top were “just reacting to the incorrect or incomplete intelligence from the ground.” No one’s to blame because the group is responsible, and the horrific groupthink political philosophy the USSR pushed on its citizens is what made such atrocities possible.
This is an important book for recognizing war for what it really is, the bottom of human ambition. And that the attitude of “just letting the pain die with the veterans” as an act of mercy only paves the way towards romanticizing the war’s narrative as the keepers of the memories of the truth slowly and quietly die off. War is not romantic. None of the past, the present, or the future. But when it does come, it is important for the returning soldiers’ voices to be heard, not spit on or censored.