Fives and Twenty-Fives: A Novel. Michael Pitre. Bloomsbury USA. August 2014. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9781620407547.
Lieutenant Peter Donovan and his buddies, Lester “Doc” Pleasant and Kateb “Dodge” el Hariti, are the main characters in this war novel about fighting in Anbar Province, Iraq. These are fictional characters who serve as representative military personnel fighting in Iraq for one, two and even more tours. Their story is told in flashbacks between their past service to their present lives now they are no longer in the Marines. Their job is to clear out former battle areas or roads where explosives and grenades have been left behind for the traveling American military personnel. It’s a life and/or death mission!
The rule of the title is to scan carefully and quickly, looking for explosives or enemy attackers. It is repeated often and never taken for granted as the story shows how random and shocking every death or severe injury is. It’s obvious that it’s almost impossible to spot every looming danger but these Marine fighters are superbly trained in tire tracks, spotting color, and other phenomena that save many more lives than are taken! But these men are human and it’s obvious that the horrors of this war take their toll; on the job, a type of black humor and constant teasing and joking help them survive, but upon their return to civilian life, booze, sex, and violence clearly show the PTSD effects of living with this hell on a day-to-day basis.
Other issues abound such as issuing a command that might cause the Marines to miss an ensuing attack, thereby causing questions of blame. As these fighters are so united, any diminishment of trust is as deadly as an exploding device psychologically and therefore a danger. Another is about those men who agreed to work for American troops as translators, as “Dodge” does. Never totally trusted, befriended but not too close, and their “native” issues are superbly depicted. Dodge works for the Marines while his family are trying to kill them. We see the debacle of Tunisia through his eyes, the brutality that fostered that rebellion, and Dutch’s slow but solid involvement in the horrific aftermath of those protests. We also observe how hard it is for these men to return to so-called “normal” life with jobs; very often the same fight or flight behavior of the war becomes the norm in civilian life. It’s a debacle as those who confront these destructive behaviors don’t seem to know its source and therefore have no inducement to help foster a slow but positive recovery.
War is hell; most of us have no doubt about that fact. However, the tales must be told so that America and other nations understand the successes and failures, the patriotic service and the devastating aftermath from living around constant violence and death. Whether one approves or disapproves of political policies made surrounding the issue of war, readers will perceive how this war is different from all others and how these Marines served so honorably in the middle of such insane thinking and behavior.
This author served two tours in Iraq and his accuracy and heightened perception about all individuals involved are more than obvious! This is a well-written war novel that should be required reading for all political, military and civilian readers. Highly recommended but not for the faint of heart!