House to House by Mark Barnes

This book makes me admire the US Army all the more. From the poor bloody infantry…

HOUSE TO HOUSE By David Bellavia with John Bruning

While we have very sensibly chosen to avoid debating the politics of modern conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan on the forum, there have been plenty of books on the subject to discuss.

The difference is style between British and American books is very pronounced. While the events and the thorough unpleasantness of combat seem broadly similar, the British books always seem a lot more dry in their reportáge and there is a wholly more laconic view of events. American accounts seem, at first glance, to be more gung-ho and, this may seem odd, wholly more romantic. The entire ethic of ‘Brothers in arms’ and a physical bond is played out far more strongly. Whichever side of the pond you’re on this difference is perhaps something to be embraced. My father-in-law, a long serving London copper, would never watch police dramas on TV and I assume soldiers don’t read these books if they’ve been there. It would be nice to think that British books like Sniper One or Dusty Warriors would be as well received in the USA as this visceral and pummelling account of the battle for Fallujah should be here.

This is the paperback edition. The sort of book found in train stations and airport departure lounges. It might attract the casual reader with no military interest. It will most definitely appeal to anyone who is looking for a window on the wars our leaders have given us. It is dramatic, tragic and bloody. It is one hundred per cent honest.

Bellavia and Bruning tell an agonising story of total violence and what amounts to a borderline horror story. TV news could never have presented the actualité for us to “enjoy” at home over supper or before the football. This book makes me admire the US Army all the more. From the poor bloody infantry, to the medics and the chaplain the story unveils a gore fest of living nightmares. REMFs are treated with the similar disdain you would find in any front line soldiers story and the officer corps are far from our hearts in a generalised way. But individual junior officers are treated with respect and a degree of, dare I say it, love. The enemy are a bewildering mix of highly motivated, anaesthetised suicidal zealots out to kill the infidel. They have had a lot of practice.

David Bellavia translates as a thoroughly likeable man who joined the US Army to make something for himself and now he has left the service with both the Silver and Bronze star to his credit, he campaigns with veterans to end the politicisation of media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows what he’s talking about.

There will be many more books about the War on Terror. They will be a mixture of the pedestrian, the turgid and the indifferent. A few will shine as truly good or even great books. This book shines.

Published by Simon & Schuster in paperback
ISBN 978-1-84739-118-6

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.