Review: Thank You For Your Service

David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service shows us a cost of war that’s easy to miss or to misunderstand.  While there is an element of polemic to Service, this is a much deeper book than a simple call to arms.  Finkel is able take us into the lives of soldiers who have suffered horrifically in war but have also done so invisibly.  They are invisible because their wounds are internal.  They bear the traumas of nightmare experiences and of physical but internal brain injuries.

I’m not the writer or the journalist that Finkel is, so this review contains a lot of my conclusions from taking what he showed me and rolling it around in my head for a while.  Essentially I’m cooking in my biases and handing that information out. All readers of Service will do this. They will be able to do that because Finkel has been absorb the lives of these people and to depict them unflinchingly.  He has his biases, certainly, but his presentation is multi-faceted and nuanced.  One comes away with an understanding of the mammoth scope of the damage done, the people fighting to make it better, and the enormous and unexpected challenges facing the damaged and those trying to help.

One of the key things Finkel shows is how real the injuries of these people are.  It is difficult to explain how experiences that leave no physical marks are as debilitating and as clinical as amputations. I suspect many of you are not convinced by these sentences, which is why it’s worth reading his.  Initial skepticism – warranted though it may be – just cannot reasonably hold up against the unrelenting evidence that one sees when you follow these people for a while.  Basic functions of their brains are impaired; the evidence becomes too much to ignore. These aren’t touchy-feely or subtle injuries.  They are as clear and obvious as a severed limb once you take the time to look.  Finkel took the time to look and presents the facts in ways that cannot be ignored.

The resources being spent to fix these problems are woefully small compared to the problem.  One suspects that the people handing out the money don’t completely understand that these are real battlefield injuries, not people who are just sick of war.  In addition to having to face life damaged, the survivors are fighting to get even the smallest assistance learning to compensate for their injuries. Facing that with damaged brains only makes matters worse.

Finkel also alludes to a bigger problem.  It’s clear that even with all the money in the world we just don’t know how to help these people.  These people’s brains are damaged in ways no oone knows how to fix.  They will never have proper memory function again; we don’t know how to reset that breaker.

All of this makes this human cost more clear and tragic – there are many, many soldiers from our wars who are permanently and invisibly damaged.  Their injuries crush them, their spouses, and their friends while making it appear that they are merely irresponsible, not permanently injured.  The resources to help them are well beyond inadequate, but even with infinite resources, we don’t know what to do.

We need to stop doing this to people if we can avoid it.

All of this Finkel shows us without lecturing us.  He makes us figure it out and see it ourselves.

Strongly Recommended.

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