Edstrom, a former U.S. Army infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan, debuts with a searing indictment of American militarism grounded in his transformation from gung-ho West Point plebe to embittered PTSD sufferer. Interspersing his account with song lyrics, novel excerpts, statements from U.S. military leaders, and media reports, Edstrom describes the war in Afghanistan as “morally dubious, illegal in its scope, and unjust in terms of its proportionality.” He reveals numerous instances in which U.S. military leaders covered up civilian casualties, and laments the futility of expecting poorly trained national guardsmen “to fight a politically sensitive, ethnically charged guerilla war.” Documenting the war’s physical and psychological effects, Edstrom describes his driver “shaking with adrenaline” after their armored vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device containing “bits of bicycle chain,” and notes that one of his soldiers committed suicide after returning home; another is currently serving life in prison for murder. He bolsters his antiwar arguments with an impressive array of evidence, and bemoans the trillions of dollars devoted to U.S. military interventions around the world, which he feels would be better spent to combat climate change and economic inequality. This outraged, well-informed jeremiad will galvanize readers who agree with Edstrom’s assessment that the “war on terror” is “self-perpetuating, self-defeating, and immoral.” (May)
"Eloquent, devastating . . . packed with gimlet-eyed analysis cultural, economic, historical of how American life came to look the way it does . . . Edstrom’s keen observational powers encompass both the physical world and social nuance." - Los Angeles Review of Books
"Boiling mad . . . There have been several excellent memoirs by veterans of our current wars, but this is the first one that reminded me of the disillusioned writings of British veterans after World War I, grounded in a deep new distrust of the nation that sent them to war and in the officers who led them in combat . . . Edstrom is asking hard questions that both the American people and their leaders have sidestepped for years." - The New York Times
"Erik Edstrom is a gifted writer, and Un-American is not just a good book, but a great book. It’s not easy to read and, for that reason, should be required at the highest levels of government." - Washington Independent Review of Books
"[In] my survey . . . of new books of military history . . . I especially liked the Afghan War memoir by Erik Edstrom." - Thomas E. Ricks, Twitter
"Exceptional . . . Un-American is most extraordinary because even after the indoctrination of West Point, Edstrom dared to question some of the decisions and the presence of US military as invaders not saviors. For a real look at the marketing of and true cost of war, this is a must-read.” - New York Journal of Books
"A thoughtful, thought-provoking, iconoclastic, informed and informative contribution to our on-going national dialogue concerning the American military's role against the kind of asymmetrical warfare presented by global and state supported terrorism." - Midwest Book Review
"A gripping firsthand account of the inefficiencies, hazards, and moral vacuity of continued political violence . . . a passionate account that eschews patronizing the reader, relieves the tensest moments with the darkest humor, and reflects the experience of a generation of junior officers doing their small, brief part in a big, endless war." - War on the Rocks
"A decade of reflection culminated in this well-researched meditation on a basic question: Why is it so difficult for Americans to reckon with the reasons, costs, and impact of our wars? . . . Edstrom's bracing inquiry should be at the forefront of the debate about our national perspective on patriotism, the military, defense spending, and, most challenging, our lack of courage to question these crucial issues." - Booklist, starred review
"Unflinching and powerful." - Library Journal
"An insider's you-are-there look at modern war. Veterans will love it or hate it, but there will be few in between." - Kirkus Reviews
"A searing indictment of American militarism . . . this outraged, well-informed jeremiad will galvanize readers who agree with Edstrom’s assessment that the ‘war on terror’ is ‘self-perpetuating, self-defeating, and immoral." - Publishers Weekly
"[A] bright-eyed, scathing indictment of not only the systemic governmental failures that led to our GWOT quagmires but also of an American culture that still somehow deifies the insanity of dying in a pointless war." - Matt Young, author of EAT THE APPLE
"An act of significant patriotism and civic courage . . . a fierce, ferocious debut, a book anyone who seeks to be an engaged citizen should read today." - Matt Gallagher, author of EMPIRE CITY and YOUNGBLOOD
"It isn't Edstrom's anger that gives Un-American its staggering poweralthough there's plenty of thatbut rather the profound thoughtfulness and perception of his observations, earned at such awful cost. Every chickenhawk president, politician and pundit who has had a hand in blithely casting American soldiers into our futile wars should be made to read this bookand to then seek forgiveness." - Scott Anderson, author of LAWRENCE IN ARABIA
"Edstrom illuminates his personal experiences with apropos quotes from a wide range of sources and contextualizes anecdotes with supporting data . . . [Un-American] forces acknowledgment of our shared culpability in an ongoing if slow-moving tragedy, which is painful – but deeply necessary if we are to learn any lessons about how – and whether – to wage war." - Kayla Williams, director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security
"Personal, raw, very critical, soul-bearing, obscene, profound, and seething with underlying ire in places . . . the candor and the moral courage of the author are compelling and this book should be required reading for all general officers and senior national security practitioners because it reveals the grave and harmful consequences of throwing young leaders and soldiers into a series of wars without end." - Modern War Institute, West Point, via Robert Cassidy, PhD, retired US Army colonel and Andersen Fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy, Wesleyan University
"A memoir of harrowing loss. What unites the anger and the grief is the belief that the people of the United States ought to understand what war has meant to the people of those countries . . . [Un-American] asks us to imagine trading places with ordinary Afghans, who see our troops as invaders." - America: The Jesuit Review
"An honest, evidence based evaluation that puts you in the boots of a soldier during America's futile War on Terror, exposing the corrupt military industrial complex for its blatant disregard for human life and the planet." - Sunrise Blue Hills
"Trenchantly questions the lack of moral vision in tabulating the cost of America’s longest war. It’s every bit as critical as anything by esteemed academics, while written in accessible language and hewing closer to the bone of lived experience. We owe it to ourselves to read it." - Plough Quarterly
After graduating from West Point, Edstrom was deployed to Afghanistan and returned disillusioned, bitter, and outraged about his experience and about America's War on Terror. Few escape his criticism in this book, which turns a critical eye toward West Point, the U.S Army, the military industrial complex, U.S. political leadership, corporate America, and Americans citizens themselves in this manifesto against what Edstrom calls "America's unchallenged war machine." The author finds no redeeming aspects in his service, talking candidly about the damage the army inflicted on the people of Afghanistan. In Edstrom's view, the response after the September 11 attacks was counterproductive and did not make the world or the country safer. Edstrom's ground-level perspective is unflinching and powerful. VERDICT This strident critique of the American military and its place in American society and culture, combined with Edstrom's firsthand experiences in Afghanistan, will interest readers seeking primary source accounts of the War on Terror.—Mark Jones, Mercantile Lib., Cincinnati
An Afghanistan veteran assails war and the military.
In his debut book, Edstrom makes it abundantly clear that he hates war, especially America's "two illegal wars of aggression" in Afghanistan and Iraq and the "sensationalized" war on terror. The author also has little positive to relate about West Point, military training, military spending, the military's refusal to let people in uniform opt out of wars they oppose on moral grounds, and the governments that lead us into these wars. Throughout, Edstrom is unrelenting in his criticism. "The U.S. military, as it is currently used," he writes, "is not a wholesome institution: it escalates violence around the world, and inculcates a pro-nationalism, pro-militarism dogma that is hard to shake." Edstrom certainly has the credentials to speak his mind on this topic: He is a graduate of West Point and the U.S. Army Rangers School, was selected for the U.S. Special Forces, received a Bronze Star, and served as an infantry platoon leader in the toughest parts of Afghanistan. His story, part memoir and part manifesto, runs from his late high school days through West Point and the war in Afghanistan to 2019. He opens by asking his readers to consider three visions: their own death in war, how they would feel if another nation invaded the U.S. to protect us from an unpopular president, and what the world would be like if there had been no war. Then he divides the book into three parts, each part examining one of the visions. Edstrom does not shy away from recounting the gruesome conditions and challenges he faced during his deployment, including watching his friends being blown apart by roadside bombs. While he does express some hope, he believes peace will happen only if all Americans demand an end to war.
An insider's you-are-there look at modern war. Veterans will love it or hate it, but there will be few in between.