The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice

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9781439177402: The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice
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A “sharp-eyed look at the complexities of war” (Parade), that explores the inner workings of the Human Terrain System, a Pentagon program that sends civilian social scientists into war zones to help soldiers understand local culture.

On the day Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, a small group of American civilians took their optimism and experience to a village west of Kandahar, Afghanistan. They were part of the Pentagon’s controversial attempt to bring social science to the battlefield, driven by the notion that you can’t win a war if you don’t understand the enemy and his culture. The field team in Afghanistan that day included an intrepid Texas blonde, a former bodyguard for Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and an ex-military intelligence sergeant who had come to Afghanistan to make peace with his troubled past. But not all goes as planned.

In this tale of moral suspense, journalist Vanessa Gezari follows these three idealists from the hope that brought them to Afghanistan through the events of the fateful day when one is gravely wounded, an Afghan is dead, and a proponent of cross-cultural engagement is charged with his murder. Through it all, these brave Americans ended up showing the world just how determined they were to get things right, how hard it was to really understand a place like Afghanistan where storytelling has been a major tool of survival, and why all future wars will involve this strange mix of fighting and listening.

Vanessa Gezari is the only journalist to have gained access to the lives of people inside this troubled Army program, including the brilliant, ambitious figures who conceived it. This true story of war and sacrifice will upend your ideas about what really went wrong in Afghanistan.

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Review:

Doug Stanton on The Tender Soldier By Vanessa M. Gezari

Doug Stanton is a teacher, lecturer, and author of the New York Times bestsellers In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, TIME, the Washington Post, Men’s Journal, Outside, The Daily Beast/Newsweek. Stanton has appeared multiple times on the Today Show, CNN, Imus In The Morning, Discovery, A&E, Fox News, NPR, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and NBC Nightly News. Horse Soldiers is in development as a movie by Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Stanton reads and lectures nationally to business, civic groups, libraries, writing & book clubs, and universities, including the United States Air Force Academy, University of Michigan, and The Union League Club. Stanton attended Interlochen Arts Academy, Hampshire College, and received an MFA from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he graduated with coursework in both fiction and poetry workshops. He founded the National Writers Series, a book festival; and the Front Street Writers Studio, a free writing workshop for public high school students.

Anyone wishing to understand more deeply, and with more complexity, the U.S.’s relationship to Afghanistan will find in The Tender Soldier more than they could have imagined, and certainly more than they have learned from any number of news reports, books, pundits, and the like. Part history, part war story, part critique, Gezari writes with a stone-cutter’s brilliance, snapping into focus a part of the world, and a chapter in American history, that we don’t fully comprehend. This is to say that she has written an entirely thrilling and engrossing book. Citizens on the daily commute, social workers, diplomats, students, and, well, anyone really interested in what it feels like to have been that neighbor down the street who deployed, and what it feels like to have been the Afghan citizen onto whose block your neighbor deployed, will read The Tender Soldier in a few nights and come away feeling smarter and enriched.

In many ways, Gezari’s book raises the very essential question, ‘How is knowledge powerful? To what uses should—and can—it be put? Can knowledge be weaponized?’ Anyone who has read David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla will read The Tender Soldier with the same sense of anticipation—that here are vexing, yet fascinating, questions: ‘How do you resolve conflict?’ In many ways, Gezari’s book is a work of anthropology itself: she enters into the world of Human Terrain Systems and draws to vivid and rich life the people who have practiced their craft in this world; and at the same time Gezari manages to be critical, empathic, and conclusive. The final sentence of the eighth chapter—‘What we wanted was to understand ourselves’—deeply sums up the hall of mirrors that can be the world of ‘rapport building,’ the hall of mirrors in which we meet ourselves—and in anthropological terms, the Other, and in military terms, the enemy or ally.

This is brilliant reading for anyone who wants to understand our past decade and more, and it can be read as a kind of road map by which to understand other wars, and other news reports breaking daily around us.

About the Author:

Vanessa M. Gezari holds the James Madison Visiting Professorship at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has written for The Washington Post, The New Republic, Slate, and others. She lives in New York.

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