‘For Love of Country,’ by Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran

New York Times | Sunday Book Review | By JAMES WRIGHT | MARCH 12, 2015 | Link to Article

Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran are a formidable team. Chandrasekaran, a reporter and editor for The Washington Post who is about to start a media company in partnership with Starbucks, has served as a foreign correspondent in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the author of compelling books on those wars. Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, has initiated comprehensive programs in that corporation to hire veterans. His account in the book’s introduction of a trip to West Point, where he realized the extent of the disconnect between ordinary Americans and those who serve in their military forces, is itself inspiring.

Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

A slim, well-written volume, “For Love of Country” has a good deal of heft. Several of its stories could provide the substance for entire books as they show us the very human faces of those who have figured in the usually anonymous narratives of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars have been marked by bloody, small-unit skirmishes in nondescript places with no front lines, by encounters with enemy forces who avoid extended fights against superior American firepower. In such an environment, the rules of engagement add a dangerous calculation. For those in the field, “victory” is often measured simply by survival — of oneself and one’s comrades. Long-term strategic or political success seems to be determined by amorphous and evolving metrics that have few military equivalents. Back home, public interest fades when wars display little apparent daily drama and no immediate consequences. These are conflicts to which most Americans have contributed neither blood nor treasure.

And yet Americans warmly embrace veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We applaud them heartily at their every appearance and say “Thank you for your service” at every opportunity. This public gratitude is sincere — even though the uniformed women and men we embrace at airports and at public programs are largely unknown, their experiences little understood. The embrace may be warm, but it isn’t sustainable. Schultz and Chandrasekaran’s book aims to correct this by introducing us to representative American veterans, reminding us just what they have done, how much they and their families have sacrificed.

There are chilling accounts throughout. Consider, for example, the Army Rangers ambushed in an Afghan minefield, leaving four dead. Forty-one Rangers received Purple Hearts for the bravery they demonstrated in that one night’s action. Elsewhere, we follow an Army platoon lured to a mountain village for a meeting they feared would be a Taliban trap — a meeting from which six of them would not return alive. Specialist Kyle White received the Medal of Honor for his remarkable courage that day, fighting on a narrow trail amid a rain of gunfire. Another Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. Leroy Petry, was cited for heroism in another battle, lunging to grab a grenade in order to protect his men.

Dr. Bill Krissoff joined the Navy Medical Corps in his early 60s after his son Nate was killed in Iraq. Dr. Krissoff served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A West Point graduate named Kellie McCoy, who dealt regularly with sexist insults while serving as an engineer, showed courage and leadership when her convoy was assaulted outside Ramadi. Two Marine guards, Jonathan Yale and Jordan Haerter, died saving the men in their compound from a truck carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives.

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There are also accounts of veterans like those on Team Rubicon, who have come home and served in disaster-relief operations. We meet veterans, often the same ones who are helping others, who continue to suffer, sometimes seeking the cruel relief of suicide. And we encounter those who are committed to our veterans’ well-being. Karen Guenther, a Marine wife, joined with others to start the Semper Fi Fund (on whose board I now serve), which supports injured Marines and their families. Bonnie Mersinger Carroll organized TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, when her husband was killed in an Alaska National Guard plane crash. Gen. Peter Chiarelli didn’t stop serving when he retired, becoming a strong advocate for those suffering from post-traumatic stress. David Oclander is a retired Army officer who teaches and inspires in the Chicago public schools.

The authors believe that the stories of these and other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans need to be as widely known as those of World War II veterans. Yet those veterans had a place in every neighborhood, and these new ones touch few neighborhoods — because the nation’s connection to the military has faded. Between 1940 and 1973, every able-bodied young man faced the draft. No one born in the United States after 1955 has confronted this system, which means a vast majority of Americans have grown up without the obligation to serve in the military. Those serving today are volunteers. How will the remainder of the population ever appreciate what they ask less than 1 percent of the citizenry to do on their behalf?

Schultz and Chandrasekaran urge both ordinary Americans and their policy makers to move from easy platitudes to genuine gratitude. This kind of support, they argue, starts with an effort to understand not only who these men and women are but what they have done. And what they have done for the rest of us. The Vietnam War should have taught us that while we may disown conflicts fought in our name, we must not abandon those who have fought in our name. Schultz and Chandrasekaran should be thanked for their own service, for reminding us of that fact.

What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice

By Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Illustrated. 210 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.

James Wright, president emeritus of Dartmouth College, is the author of “Those Who Have Borne the Battle: A History of America’s Wars and Those Who Fought Them.” He is at work on a book about the American experience in Vietnam.

A version of this review appears in print on March 15, 2015, on page BR19 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Military Salute. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe