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Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq

Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq

4.3 12
by Karl Zinsmeister

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Includes 32 color photos taken by the author during the month he was embedded with the 82nd in Kuwait and Iraq.

This is a riveting account of the war in Iraq moving north with the 82nd Airborne. Units of the 82nd depart Kuwait and convoy to Iraq's Tallil Air Base en route to night-and-day battles within the major city of Samawah and its intact


Includes 32 color photos taken by the author during the month he was embedded with the 82nd in Kuwait and Iraq.

This is a riveting account of the war in Iraq moving north with the 82nd Airborne. Units of the 82nd depart Kuwait and convoy to Iraq's Tallil Air Base en route to night-and-day battles within the major city of Samawah and its intact bridges across the Euphrates. Boots on the Ground quickly becomes an action-filled microcosm of the new kinds of ultramodern war fighting showcased in the overall battle for Iraq. At the same time it remains specific to the daily travails of the soldiers. Karl Zinsmeister, a frontline reporter who traveled with the 82nd, vividly conveys the careful planning and technical wizardry that go into today's warfare, even local firefights, and he brings to life the constant air-ground interactions that are the great innovation of modern precision combat.

What exactly does it feel like to travel with a spirited body of fighting men? To come under fire? To cope with the battlefield stresses of sleep-deprivation, and a steady diet of field rations for weeks on end? Readers of this day-to-day diary are left with not only a flashing sequence of strong mental images, but also a notion of the sounds and smells and physical sensations that make modern military action unforgettable.

Ultimately, Boots on the Ground is a human story: a moving portrayal of the powerful bonds of affection, trust, fear, and dedication that bind real soldiers involved in battle. There are unexpected elements: The humor that bubbles up amidst dangerous fighting. The pathos of a badly wounded young boy. The affection openly exhibited by many American soldiers--love of country, love of family and hometown, love of each other. This is a true-life tale of superbly trained men in extraordinary circumstances, packed with concrete detail, often surpassing fiction for sheer drama.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Early Praise for Boots on the Ground

"Karl Zinsmeister's splendid report from within the maelstrom of combat demonstrates how the public can benefit when America's superb military is closely observed by a superb reporter."

—George F. Will, news columnist

"A fast-moving story of courage and competence, written by an observer who offers a far different picture from what was presented by our mainstream media. A moving tribute to what free soldiers united in a common cause can accomplish."

—Victor Davis Hanson, military historian

“The finest, most objective piece of war journalism I’ve read since Ernie Pyle in WWII. Tells the story after talking to all grades of soldiers. No one else took time to tell the full story.”

—Burton Poole, Lt. Col., USAF, Retired

“The most powerfully real ‘war experience’ I will probably ever have. I applaud its insight, voluminous factual information, the personal stories collected from many soldiers, and especially the discoveries about the power of love in extreme life and death situations. Karl Zinsmeister has done an invaluable service to America in getting to the heart and soul of this war.”

—Mary Lavato, a soldier’s mother

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St. Martin's Press
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MADISON COUNTY, NEW YORK, MARCH 1--In four days, I have just confirmed with the Pentagon, I will depart for Kuwait.
Amidst the immaculate winter frost of upstate New York--one day this week our digital thermometer announced that it was 7.2 degrees below zero--my wife and I pluck some tickets off our desk, gather up our children, and begin to drive. As we crunch down snowy streets, the tidy nineteenth-century homes of our village glide quietly by. Rounding Cazenovia Lake--now thicklyiced, soon to sprout sails--we traverse rolling hillsides as beautiful as any between Ireland and Argentina. Even at this time of year, the woods and pastures are thick with creatures; yesterday I saw a big tom turkey strutting across a frozen field in his odd birdish rhythm.
In twenty-five minutes we enter a Persian palace--our city's grandest theater of the vaudeville era, now glitteringly restored in gold leaf and crystal. Inside, America's sultans of jazz are holding court--New Orleans pianist Ellis Marsalis joined by his four sons: Branford on sax, Wynton behind a trumpet, Delfeayo playing trombone, and Jason at the drums. Father and sons tear into the set, pouring out an emotionally overwhelming mix of virtuosity, passion, precision, and familial love. Even as we settle into bed that evening, our bones and tendons are still vibrating.
The next night my wife and I journey through the same landscape to a very different destination. Entering a fine concert hall for the latest date in our Syracuse Symphony series, we are swept by a lush romantic wave. United States and European composers Korngold, Barber, and Strauss provide the program. The interpretation is by our orchestra's superb polyglot players--Americans with roots in Romania, Korea, Armenia, and many other lands, tightly joined under the baton of our Japanese conductor emeritus.
At intermission, our delightful new friend the concertmaster comes to the edge of the stage to talk, and introduces the brother of one of his violin students. The thirteen-year-old American marvel immediately engagesme in political conversation far beyond his years. He is reading Tocqueville, prodigiously, on his own, and has just quoted one of the sage's many eerily prescient observations--about the "Mohammedan" religion's tendency toward violence. Only the dimming houselights can force an end to our chat. On the way to my seat another patron and I discuss recent late-game heroics by the Syracuse basketball team, our valiant hometown gladiators.
Then Strauss's Alpine Symphony bursts forth so vividly I can see the mountain grasses ripple with wind behind my closed eyes, and feel the spray of the waterfall as the composer chronicles his day on a peak. A joyous Haydn oratorio sung by the local university chorale further punctuates the evening. Our gaze is lifted even higher, beyond the mountaintop, all the way to the mover of mountains Himself.
Just another weekend in the fifty-ninth largest city in the United States of America--a remarkable land where freedom, beauty, and opportunity are available in wondrous abundance to all people, every single day.


In the mad scramble to prepare myself, on just a few days notice, for an indefinite-length assignment in an isolated and unprovisioned combat zone, I throw myself at the mercies of modern capitalism and technology. Internet commerce rapidly brings me two plane tickets, a shortwave radio, powerpacks for my computer, and vitalmemory cards and lithium batteries for my digital camera. Internet sites provide the precise tunings that will make the radio useful in the Middle East, updates on local communicable diseases, and books and online archives that spell out innumerable essential details. A satellite modem is rented and FedExed to give me a communications link even in the most desolate corner of the forsaken land to which I am headed. A colleague acquires two marvelous "flash drives"--plastic wands the size of my pinkie that can be plugged directly into a computer, loaded with hundreds of fresh photographs and thousands of words, then expressed back to Washington, weighing no more than a pencil.
Not only American capitalism but also American government comes through for me under pressure. The public health nurse for our rural county is a homey marvel of professionalism, surprising me with instant details, hot from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, on exactly which immunizations and malarial and bacterial therapies I will need to stay healthy in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East.
Four days later I walk into the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to be inoculated against smallpox and anthrax, agents Saddam could employ as battle-zone trumps. The attentive care of the military nurses and technicians, and the openness of the doctors from the Army and the National Institutes of Health about the risks and benefits of vaccination, leave me impressed. As bureaucracies go, America's variousgovernmental arms are more benign than any in history.
Back in middle America, I am able to leave my wife and three children alone for a month or two, confident that they will be protected, and not extorted, by the local police. Unlike in many other parts of the world I needn't worry that some competing tribe or religious sect will rampage through my home community in my absence. I can be comfortable that the town government will pipe my family pure water, and that our utility companies will keep our house warm and electrified in winter. I am certain that local and national businesses will make food, and insurance, and gasoline, and all of life's necessities available to them. I can rely on numerous private companies to send them generally trustworthy newspapers, magazines, and radio and Internet reports on the conflict I'll be in the middle of.
Rather prosaic victories, you're thinking. Except of course they aren't. Literally most of the families on this planet cannot go to bed confident that these kinds of services and securities will be there when they awake. America's relative peace and abundance, her deep cultural richness, her competence, her fair play, are very much exceptions in human history.
The pleasures and accomplishments and sureties that fill my final days in the United States are minor miracles. We Americans must never take these things for granted, or falter in our determination to defend the economy and government and traditions of living that make them possible. As I think and then type this I am somewhereover the Black Sea, just hours shy of entering a land where none of this--not one single piece--can be counted on.

When navigating any airport today, one is sickened by the thought of how much time, motion, and energy must now be wasted simply to fend off the depradations of a tiny band of cruel maniacs: the hordes of new federal employees hired to x-ray, question, rummage, wand, and frisk; the enormous expenditures on explosive-sniffing machines and giant cargo scanners; the squandered time and opportunities represented by millions of travelers shuffling about in boredom, all across the country, when they would rather be doing something productive.
What mighty deeds could this army of workers and mountain of resources have accomplished if applied to some more fruitful task? It's a Kafkaesque waste.
I'm likewise struck by the high price we pay for political terror when I stare at the thick pile of papers that accompanied my biowarfare inoculations--adverse reaction warnings, indemnity forms, wound treatment instructions, on and on, all methodically researched and drawn up, then explained to me by six or seven different individuals. An Army doctor--a highly qualified colonel--spent about forty minutes giving me the briefing that precedes emergency smallpox immunization.I kept thinking guiltily that he should really be doing something more important than clicking through a PowerPoint presentation for an audience of one.
Bright medical professionals in a great many places have recently invested vast amounts of time and money brushing up on prevention, discovery, and treatment of diseases that by rights should be obscure or erased entirely as human dangers. Had these needless threats not been synthesized by vicious terrorists, those men and women could have been solving other knotty problems instead.
For that matter, what would I be doing this spring if the readers of my magazine, and the rest of the world, were focused on something more constructive than war? Certainly not buying airplane tickets to Kuwait for the privilege of sleeping in the dust and eating MREs (military "meals ready to eat" that one friend insists should really stand for "meals refused by Ethiopians").
What would President Bush and the U.S. Congress be taking up this spring absent the mad intemperance of men like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Saddam Hussein? I expect we'd be making breakthroughs right now on an historic reform of Social Security, and hammering out new ways to stanch the bleeding at the Medicare program. We'd be further along in figuring out how to help poor people through religious charities rather than just government agencies. And our defense costs would be a lot slimmer, while the Pentagon would be morefully reshaped into nimbleness. (French cheese sales in the United States would also be much stronger.)
But instead of pursuing progress on new frontiers, much of our national attention is now directed, quite literally, to damage control.
Perhaps most significant, our national economy would not now be entering its third year of funk had Osama bin Laden spent more time taking care of his wives and less time destroying other people's families. September 11, and the fear, uncertainty, and distraction that followed, have taken a mighty whack out of U.S. financial vigor. Our powerful economic engine will eventually recover, but today's slumping indicators are much more than just scratches on a stock table; they are symbols of lost opportunities and narrowed horizons for almost every American household.
One personal example of how the black gash on New York City's skyline has fogged landscapes in other parts of America is the school budget in my own hometown. The Twin Towers collapse threw a heavy blanket over New York State's economy, with the result that our upstate school and many others suddenly face large shortfalls in state revenue. This will likely be made up by sharply increasing the property taxes on my house and those of my neighbors. That's terrorism hitting close to home.
Executing war against our assailants is not cheap either. Figures from private and government agencies suggest that the costs of assembling our fighting force in theMiddle East, conducting a month of combat in Iraq, and then bringing the force home again could easily total forty billion dollars or more. Occupying that nation may consume another ten billion dollars through the rest of the year.
Of course the cruelest price of all for Middle Eastern terror is paid in human lives. Saddam is estimated to have killed three million Iraqis since coming to power in 1979, plus hundreds of thousands of Iranians, many Kuwaitis, and some Americans. How many of the soldiers that I befriend on this reporting tour will be injured or killed? How many innocent lives here and around the globe will be ruined or extinguished by future terrorist bombs, plagues, or knives drawn across throats?
There is no painless solution to the devilish costs imposed by the terror masters. But there is a solution: Kill the killers. Quickly. And completely. That's where my campmates, the 82nd Airborne (and company), come in. But first, meet some Kuwaitis.

KUWAIT CITY, MARCH 6--My first night in Kuwait, the wind began to howl through the downtown hotel towers with such shrieking force that I opened the drapes at about midnight to watch. It was a scirocco, moving with enough force to not only make unearthly noise but also lift tons of fine sand and dust from the vast expanses ofdesert that surround Kuwait City, and indeed the entire Persian Gulf. Think of a hard blizzard, but of dirt rather than snow. Visibility declined to barely one yard at the storm's peak, forcing drivers to stop dead in the road.
The next morning I got my initial daylight glimpse of the city through a thick brown-gray haze which took nearly a weekend to fully settle. I saw fences and metal roofs on industrial structures that had been ripped away by the winds. And I heard reports from the military public affairs officers that scores of tents had been knocked down at the American Army and Marine camps strung along the Iraq border.
One soldier was stranded, disoriented, in the dust blizzard for three hours while trying to make his way from the mess tent to his sleeping tent. Some carry compasses with them during these short walks to avoid just such a situation. The sand berms that engineers have bulldozed to ring the camps are not just part of the security but also to prevent blinded servicemen from accidentally wandering into the desert during these storms, where they could become lost.
Kuwaitis have opened their doors wide for an American move against Iraq. The antipathy Kuwait feels for its immediate neighbor to the north is such that Iraq is not even listed in Kuwaiti phone books, time-zone guides, or atlases--it has simply been erased as a respectable entity. People bitterly remember the looting and larceny--both petty and grand--committed by the Iraqi occupiers in 1990 and early '91. One businessowner Italked to described how soldiers cleaned out his entire building, stripping not only all of his merchandise but even the furniture and fittings of the office.
Today there is little or no evidence left in Kuwait of this trauma from a decade ago. The country ripples with prosperity and progress, and indeed effects a nearly American standard of living, not only in its central districts but also in outer neighborhoods where I visited supermarkets and teahouses and shopping malls. Many Kuwaitis speak English, and Western products and ideas are ubiquitous. Extensive new buildings glisten in many quarters.
This is not a Western nation, a true democracy (only about one seventh of the population can vote), or a fully capitalist economy (Kuwait's vast oil revenues paper over plenty of economic mistakes). But it is a peaceful and thriving place, where good newspapers are available, where there is no income tax, and where 60 percent of university students and 36 percent of the workforce is made up of women.
Kuwait, like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf states, is now a multicultural nation, where large numbers of imported Filipino, Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian, and other workers blend with native Arabs in a tawny skinned, black haired gumbo. Hardly an American-style melting pot (it will be a while before Kuwait has the equivalents of Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and Colin Powell representing it at international conclaves),but nonetheless a cosmopolitan society where al Qaeda-style intolerance is simply not tenable on a mass basis.

With hundreds of thousands of coalition fighting men staging in the country for an invasion of Iraq, Kuwait lies within easy striking range of Saddam's forces. So where do local citizens--and reporters authorized to enter combat with U.S. forces--obtain their protective gear? From a civil defense agency? From the defense ministry?
Try Ahmed al-Saleh and Sons. The thriving family firm, which owns several buildings and a variety of stores, is one of a handful of Kuwaiti businesses that hawks bulletproof helmets, flak jackets, and other military accoutrements. In striving and war-singed Kuwait, the storefronts are much glossier than a typical army surplus store in America, but the contents are much the same.
Want a gas mask? There are eastern European models, and a few made in the West. Don't forget your drinking hose and attachable canteen--vital when you could be spending hours in the desert heat inside the mask and a heavy, impermeable NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) protective suit. If you wear glasses, I hope you had a prescription insert made. And do buy extra filters. Saddam is not a man given to moderation.
The commonest masks are Korean and Chinese. Dothey work? Probably. Certainly the price is right--perhaps thirty Kuwaiti dinars (around $100), versus two to five times that for competing models. Supplies are a little tight, but not sold out. The Kuwaiti government is suggesting locals place soaked towels around their doors in the event of a gassing, and residents seem remarkably unperturbed. "The U.S. Army will protect us," is the common view.
Battle helmets, on the other hand, are scarce to nonexistent, thanks partly to a run on them by international reporters assigned to "embed" with frontline forces. (Bring your own lifesaving gear.)
One al-Saleh branch, and several other shops as well, tell me they are out of helmets. "Don't worry, we ordered. Soon we have." But "soon" in the Arab souk is five days. Too late. I will be in the desert with the troops by then.
With a little cajoling and pressure, however, the market cracks open a bit. Riyad, the man who insisted no helmets would be available this week, finally pulls a British-made model out of a box. "Just 130 dinar. Usually 165." Only one problem: It already has a bullet hole in it--directly in the forehead, about the size of a round from a 9mm firearm.
I am pleased to note that the shot did not fully penetrate the helmet. But hairline cracks radiate from the hole, and military headgear strikes me as a product category not well-suited to scratch-and-dent sales. I think of a joke a friend told me, just before I left the States,about French tanks: They have six gears in reverse, and one forward (just in case they get attacked from the rear). A helmet with a bullet hole in the forehead but a pristine surface at the back might be best for a soldier or journalist from France, I suggest to Riyad. The comic potential seems to translate surprisingly well.
At another shop, the Kuwait City helmet shortage briefly evaporates. "No problem," says the shopkeeper, who disappears to his storage room, returning with a well-made piece of shiny blue headgear bearing a gummed sticker that reads Bulletproof Helmet. I am dubious, and close inspection reveals a manufacturer's label inside, blacked out with magic marker but still legible, where I can make out Fireman's Helmet. Hmmm. I'd love to follow a firefighter around for a story some day, but I tell my new friend Sharif that this won't do for where I'm going.
Like any good salesman, Sharif shifts gears once he realizes he has a discerning customer. "Come back tomorrow, and I give you choices."
Meanwhile, I try on flak jackets. A model made in Northern Ireland has nice Velcro fittings. But it seems to have been tailored with a bantam border guard named Finbar in mind, not a 6'5" American. Call me sentimental, I mime to my attendant, but I cherish not only my chest but also my abdomen.
I also tell him this feels like police-level Kevlar, not full military gear. At which point he whips out two heavy ceramic plates which he says can be inserted toreinforce the front and rear of the vest. "All special made for you, my friend. Good price."
And Sharif becomes the third shopkeeper to excitedly offer me custom fabric coverings for my gear in "any color camouflage you want." Not seeing any tactical advantage in wearing forest-green camo in a land that makes Arizona look lush, and completely mystified by the distinctive royal-blue wavy pattern printed on lots of Kuwaiti gear, I state my firm though boring preference for straight beige-and-brown desert concealment.
The next day we negotiate the price. I'm offered a free glass of sweet tea, but find that's the only thing I'm going to get at a bargain price, despite some earnest negotiating. If the Kuwaitis are grateful to Americans for saving their bacon back in 1991 it sure doesn't show up in the prices on lifesaving gear offered to this reporter. I'm sorely tempted to walk away. But, hey, I'll never get this story done if I get a hole opened up in my body.

The new and the old, the religious and the secular, the traditional and the modern blend rather seamlessly in Kuwait. Yacob al-Qalaf, whom I met in a teahouse where he sat smoking the age-old hookah pipe in the company of some other men in customary headdress, turned out to be a well-educated professional and speaker of polished English. Kuwait now boasts an excellentsystem of superhighways. And beside them one still sees goat and camel herds tended by berobed Bedouins who live in desert tents.
Yacoub al-Saleh, who sold me my body armor and then took some interview questions, is the second son in a wealthy trading family, a speaker of exemplary English whose business often takes him to America and other parts of the West. Just the same, he wore the traditional Kuwaiti headdress, and excused himself at one point for forty-five minutes to go pray at a nearby mosque. For more than an hour while I was in his office, his son, perhaps ten years old, chanted his Koran lessons in a loud singsong over in an adjoining room.
Similar meldings of modernity and tradition are successfully underway in Qatar (which has a relatively progressive government that is enterprising, fair to women, tolerant of a mostly free press, and quite friendly to America), Dubai (which has made itself an economic success despite meager oil resources by opening itself to tourism and trade), and other Persian Gulf states. These provide encouragement that the Arab Middle East needn't be an economic desert and human rights swamp for the future.
Could Iraq, under American tutelage, and with renewed links to its gradually modernizing neighbors, follow a similar course? There is good reason to hope. First of all, it is not an ignorant culture. Iraq was traditionally the intellectual center of the Arab world. This is the land of Hammurabi, the society that introduced the conceptof zero into mathematics, the home of the singer of the Gilgamesh Epic.
Iraqis are described by experts as having an "unquenchable thirst for knowledge," and at one point boasted the highest rate of Ph.D. holders in the world. In the later 1970s, before Saddam Hussein seized power, the number of students in technical fields soared; great progress was made against disease; and the rights of women were established as nowhere else in the Arab world. Among the estimated five million Iraqis who are now political refugees and economic expatriates living abroad, there is a great store of knowledge and experience. If they were to return, this could help jump-start their land into the club of successful nations.
Iraq certainly has a fighting chance. It retains much less of the medieval baggage that weighs down people like the Saudis and the Afghans. Still, making Iraq over will not be simple, for this is a portion of the world without humane political traditions. It is sobering to note that the Iraqi government has been overthrown twenty-three times since 1920.
After making that an even two dozen, America will try to help the Iraqis put an end to their ugly political history. The United States has done it before--directly in places like Japan and Germany, and indirectly in places like eastern Europe and Latin America, where decades of dogged effort finally shoved those societies away from dictatorship and toward representative free enterprise.
The fond vision of any sensible American is that theremaking of Iraq will launch a kind of Berlin Wall syndrome in the long-accursed Middle East. A decade and a half ago, who could have guessed how rapidly other Iron Curtain nations would embrace freedom once it started to flicker in the heart of the Soviet bloc? Could a free and prosperous Iraq have an equally revolutionary effect on its neighbors?
Tyrants like Yasser Arafat and Syrian president Bashar Assad have already felt the winds blowing and made efforts to dodge and preempt the freedom spirit with cosmetic softenings. Iran is actively bubbling with liberation sentiments, and could well throw off its mullahs within a blink if an attractive model of modernity can be launched in Iraq. This is a grand and uncertain vision, but worth all effort. Redirecting the Middle East away from its self-immolating narrowness would be the accomplishment of a lifetime--and very possibly the difference between America's safety over the next two decades and a terrorist holocaust of truly historic dimensions.

Many of the cruelest dictators across the ages were fatherless offspring of disordered families. That was Adolf Hitler's background, and it is also Saddam Hussein's. Saddam's father abandoned him before he was born. His penniless mother went to her brother's house near the city of Tikrit to give birth, and then in turn abandonedthe baby, leaving him to be raised by his uncle's family. They gave him a name which means "clasher" or "one who confronts."
Iraq is a tribal society. There are 150 different alliances of family clans. Most are highly interbred and insular. Fitting this pattern, Saddam married his cousin Sajida Talfah in 1963, and sired sons Uday and then Qusay.
The more one studies Saddam Hussein's ruling circle, the more it looks like a gang rather than a government. He stuffed the ruling ranks with his relatives and fellow members of the Tikrit-based tribe to which he belongs. When Saddam took over the country in the late 1970s, all of the most powerful men in his ruling Baath party were members of the Talfah family of Tikrit. To disguise the extent to which one small clan dominated affairs of state the party actually abolished surnames, requiring that ID cards record only a child's first name and the name of his father. Even today, half or more of the top Iraqi leaders are cousins or other relatives of Saddam.
Saddam originally groomed his eldest son Uday as his successor, but the boy's psychopathic violence eventually proved him unfit even by current Iraqi standards. One of Uday's "hobbies" is selecting women on the street to rape and kill. He circulates sadistic videotapes to friends and associates showing him torturing enemies to death. His drunken orgies and violence are legendary.
The son reflects what his father taught him. Saddam started taking Uday to executions of dissidents when hewas five. As a ten-year-old the youngster began watching torture sessions. After Uday murdered a member of Saddam's entourage in one of his fits of drunkenness and mental instability, though, he lost the mantle of presidential successor to his brother.
Number two son Qusay, a couple of years junior at age 36, is now Saddam's heir apparent. Qusay is in charge of intelligence and security in Iraq (the only growth industry in this police state), and also head of the Republican Guard. He and his brother sit at the top of a list of Saddam's most abusive lackeys slated for capture and trial, or elimination, if American or British forces can locate them.
Currently, Uday runs much of Iraq's media. He is also head of the national press union, which--what a coincidence! --named him "journalist of the century" for his "innovative role, his efficient contribution in the service of Iraq's media family ... and his defense of honest and committed speech." Recently, Babel, one of the newspapers Uday uses to toady for his father, has spent much of its time praising "peace" demonstrators in the West for inflicting "humiliating international isolation" on the United States and Britain. Leafing through issues of this and other Iraqi newspapers published just before the war I see numerous photos of the "No War on Iraq" rallies being staged in places like San Francisco and Berlin.
Recognizing that Saddam's best chance--really, only chance--for surviving America's military wrath is to stall for time (for which the U.N. inspection process provedperfectly suited), and then hope that peaceniks in the West will eventually sap U.S. determination to remove his father, the younger Hussein's Babel praised the protestors of Europe and America for opening "a new chapter in the global balance of power." Hardly a pacifist himself, however, Uday is personally in control of several Iraqi militias.


Bellicosity has been Saddam Hussein's trademark right from the start. His first prominent public act was to plot to kill his nation's leader at the time, Abdul Karim Qasim. Within a year of becoming president himself in 1979, Saddam had dragged his country into a war with Iran that lasted eight years and killed 435,000 people. During that period, the Iraqi used chemical weapons against soldiers and civilians on at least forty different occasions. Two years after that disastrous adventure came to a close, he invaded Kuwait, bringing more destruction, defeat, and death to his people.
Saddam's willingness to inflict suffering on his own nation apparently knows no bounds. While only around three thousand Iraqi civilians were killed in Desert Storm (thanks to the care of American and allied military leaders), Saddam's brutality in quelling the internal uprisings that followed in fourteen out of the country's eighteen governates (plus his neglect of basic health services) took fully 105,000 lives in the war's aftermath. When the U.S. and Britain proposed in 2001 to ease thelife of everyday Iraqis by loosening sanctions on civilian goods in return for tighter controls on arms, Saddam dismissed the offer, further pauperizing his people to keep his grip on power.
Today, incomes in Iraq have tumbled to a tenth or less of their levels two decades ago. A quarter of all school children no longer attend elementary school. Basic commodities like water have become so scarce that building lobbies are now sometimes mopped with fuel oil instead. (That is something Iraq will never run short of.)
In addition to the estimated three million Iraqi citizens he has killed, Saddam has driven four to five million people (15 percent of the population) into exile abroad. There are now about eighty different anti-Saddam parties operating throughout the Middle East, in London and other European capitals, and in the United States. This man is an expert at making enemies.
The misery Saddam has been so willing to make his countrymen bear ends at his palace door. Saddam's personal wealth, all accumulated through state graft, is now reliably believed to total around thirty-two billion dollars. On the day I write this, there are reports in the Kuwaiti papers that Saddam has just dispatched his personal jeweler to Thailand to buy him millions of dollars worth of diamonds, presumably for him to live off of should U.S. forces put him on the run.


Quite literally nothing is sacred to Iraq's tyrant. A Defense Department briefing just before I left Washington presented photographs of ammunition dumps, anti-aircraft guns, and other military equipment recently relocated next to schools, hospitals, mosques, shopping centers, and other sensitive positions in an attempt to either play on American sympathy to prevent the war material from being destroyed, or else foment an international uproar if inadvertent damage is done in the course of bombing it.
Saddam is determined to repeat his successes of the first Gulf War, when he did this notoriously. In one incident, he had his forces shear the dome off the Basra mosque and claim it was done by an allied bomber, when in fact the nearest bomb craters were hundreds of yards away. A famous 1991 aerial photograph of the Ziggurat of Ur (a four thousand-year-old religious pyramid located in the ancient city which produced the biblical patriarch Abraham) shows two MiG-21 jets parked almost touching its stonework. They were trucked there to be sheltered by U.S. unwillingness to desecrate the site, and indeed they were spared during the bombing.
Even more heinous is Saddam's predilection for using innocent humans to shield his forces. The most remembered example of this in the last Iraq war was the al-Amiriya incident, where civilians were invited by the Iraqis to use the first floor of a bunker--whose lower levels sheltered a command-and-control center--as housing. Unaware of the civilian presence, U.S. warplanesdestroyed the bunker, resulting in more than one hundred deaths, an uproar in Europe, and a pullback in American attacks.
Encouraged by the mobilizations of the Western peace movement, Saddam and his henchmen hope to create more such "strategic incidents" this time around. The idea remains that media-viewer outrage might cause military planners to get cold feet and put an end to their raids. As part of this, the Iraqis welcomed some two hundred antiwar activists from foreign countries into Iraq to serve as "human shields."
As hostilities approached, some of these shielders realized that their Iraqi sponsors were placing them around military and industrial facilities rather than the hospitals, schools, and other such locales they imagined they would occupy, and some hesitantly complained. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense warned that by volunteering to serve Saddam Hussein, the shielders may have crossed the line between "noncombatant" and "combatant." Could this be a case of "Live by TV imagery, die by TV imagery"?
BOOTS ON THE GROUND. Copyright © 2003 by Karl Zinsmeister. All rights reserved.. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

Karl Zinsmeister's newest book is Dawn Over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq. He is editor-in-chief of The American Enterprise, a national magazine of politics, business, and culture (TAEmag.com), and J. B. Fuqua Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a major Washington, D.C. research institute. His work has appeared in publications such as The American Enterprise, The Atlantic Monthly, Reader's Digest, the Wall Street Journal, and even a Marvel comic book series of real-life soldiers' tales. A former assistant to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Zinsmeister has been an advisor to research and policy groups, and has testified before Congressional committees and Presidential commissions many times. He appears often on television and radio programs. Zinsmeister lives with his wife and three children in rural upstate New York.

Karl Zinsmeister is the author of the book Dawn Over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq. He is editor-in-chief of The American Enterprise, a national magazine of politics, business, and culture (TAEmag.com), and J. B. Fuqua Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a major Washington, D.C. research institute. His work has appeared in publications such as The American Enterprise, The Atlantic Monthly, Reader's Digest, the Wall Street Journal, and even a Marvel comic book series of real-life soldiers' tales.  A former assistant to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Zinsmeister has been an advisor to research and policy groups, and has testified before Congressional committees and Presidential commissions many times. He appears often on television and radio programs. Zinsmeister lives with his wife and three children in rural upstate New York.

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Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read it and it was fairly accurate. I was happy he was willing to document what me and my buddies experienced. Overall a great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
How many of us have had the sensation of reading or seeing something in the press that we had first-hand, expert knowledge about, and ended up saying--'But that's wrong! That's not the way it was at all!'?? That has been my reaction to almost all war journalism I've read over the years. I was a Marine in the first Gulf War before becoming an attorney, and I basically gave up reading books and watching movies about combat because I grew so disgusted with the distortions, errors, and warped perspective of most war writing. I broke my no-read rule with this book after a law school friend forwarded some ravingly positive comments from a bulletin board where aficionados of military history were commenting on it. I'm so glad to have finally found a writer who 'gets it.' This is not a long book, but it perfectly captures the feelings and motivations of what it is like to fight for the United States of America in a modern, fast-paced battle. Hey, it would have been better if he had been with a Marine unit (!), but as it was Zinsmeister draws a great picture of some of the best soldiers in the the U.S. Army. It's real clear, dead-on, fast-paced, and with no obnoxious 'spin.' I don't have a good book about the first Gulf War I can hand my son to explain what I experienced. But I'm going to hand him this some day. It's a war book for warriors.
WorldReader1111 9 months ago
I liked 'Boots on the Ground,' mostly. It is, first, easy to read, with a simple, no-nonsense narrative that gets the facts across. Content-wise, the book is also sound, offering a hard-won, first-person account of the 2003 Iraq war during its incipience, which I found to be interesting, engaging, and full of various valuable information (not only in matters of warfare and politics, but in human affairs in general, as well as being a war-torn travelogue of sorts). Furthermore, the author raises some good points on media bias and the limitations of long-distance journalism (though, ironically, the book itself suffers from some of these same flaws, or so I thought). In regards to the book's overt subject matter, it delivers. However, what I personally liked most about 'Boots' is the story written between its lines. Namely, I enjoyed reading of the author's own experiences during his reporting from the Middle East, in which we are shown a man transformed through travel, hardship, discovery, and his eventual return home, forever changed. From this journey of personal growth and evolution, and the many philosophical and metaphysical issues it provokes, we can, I believe, learn much. Additionally, I thought the book to contain a valuable study in perspective and perception, in which the exact same events, when witnessed by different individuals, can be seen 100% differently, all due to the effects of distance, role, bias, environment, and psychological elements. This lesson, too, is universally relevant (especially in today's world, where ubiquitous media and personal opinion can muddy one's mental waters with distortion and confusion). I did come away from the read with one complaint: the author's constant commentaries, which are often emotional and opinionated, sometimes to the point of coloring the facts. Wanting only pure information when I began the book, for reasons of evaluation, I found these commentaries to be unnecessary and distracting. Though, to be fair, that's just me; someone interested in opinion and other subjective content would, perhaps, see them as a draw. In any case, they failed to invalidate the book and its overall thrust, and I finished 'Boots' feeling enriched. I am sincerely thankful to this book's author, subjects, and publisher. I have benefited from your work and service.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
As a former member of the 82nd I was excited to read this book. After finally completing it I can't believe I got conned. Here is why, most of the book is about the author and his reactions to situations. Does not do the heroism of our paratroopers justice. I don't care that the author is interested in the opera or classical concerts which is mentioned more than once. Gives more detail about an injured Iraqi boy than he does about any of our troops.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. Zinsmeister shows the true greatness of American military, unlike the distorted view of 'one sided' media. Pride, respect, and honor grows with every page. I have friends who serve(d) in Iraq and Zinsmeister gives them the attention they so rightfully deserve.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I finished the book in two days and had my son, and all his buddies sign it for me. Karl was there when it all went down. I got first hand infomation from a paratrooper, my son, who dodged bullets and everything else that comes with war. Great account of true action. I tasted the sand and could smell gunpowder.I wish I can get Karl to sign it as well. Something I will pass on to my grandkids.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great read that describes real life in war which is only shown to us through cameras and edited in newsrooms.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Karl Zinsmeister wrote a great account of the 82nd first few weeks in Iraq. Zinsmeister ands in personal details, such as; how he understood how soldiers feel when they have to leave their families before going off to war. He tells about his last few days at home with his family and the things they did. When the story begins about him being in Iraq, as a reader you can sence the rivalery between different divisions as one 82nd soldier puts down the 101st Airborne by saying all they do is fly around in helicopters, unlike the 82nd who gets there men on the ground. Zinsmeister recalls many times when he knew that he was going to be in the way of fire. He was also asks to used a weapon if needed such as the battalions only shotgun as the 82nd was searching for insurgents. Zinmeister recalls his last days in Iraqby describing a feeling of wanting to leave, yet would miss the soldiers that he was around. If you are looking for a book that is very exciting and has little holes for bordom, this is your book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With an immediacy so vivid a teletype is nearly audible, Karl Zinsmeister¿s Boots on the Ground provides an unexpectedly absorbing account of the 82nd Airborne¿s initial days in the Battle for Iraq. In clean, crisp language, Zinsmeister¿s unsentimental war coverage is both powerful and poignant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read a fascinating article about Iraq by this author in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 10, and rushed out and got a copy of his book on the same day. Boy am I glad I did. I¿m here to suggest you read it too. The book is incredible. First of all, a completely different argument from the conventional media wisdom on the Iraq war. Very original and fresh. But then there¿s the story line itself. You¿ll be rivetted. The guy was an embedded reporter and had some incredible adventures getting stories the rest of the media completely missed. Or at least I didn¿t hear them, even though I thought I was soaking up everything during the fighting. And it all just pours out. The images and details are so crisp. I laughed out loud, and cried more than once. I¿ve got to admit I didn¿t really know much about a soldier¿s life before. But I feel like I do now. My politics are different from the authors, but this book really deepened my understanding¿and respect¿for what fighting men do. This book opened my eyes. But it¿s not a textbook, it¿s more like a thriller. In the day since I finished it I keep having mini flashbacks to this story as I walk around my house and work in my yard. It¿s a shame the narrative ends just as Baghdad is about to fall. It would have been great if Zinsmeister continued the story through what¿s happening now. I wonder what he would have said.