Book Review: They Were Soldiers: How The Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story


Tammy and I have a running joke about how easily she sobs during a movie or when reading a book and how I never do.

Not this time. Reading Ann Jones’ They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars: The Untold Story, I didn’t just sob, but broke down a few times. They were anger-fueled breakdowns, but breakdowns nonetheless. 

They Were Soldiers is not a recent release. It’s actually been available for several years. I learned of it only recently, however, from an article at TomDispatch based on the book.

Jones’ expose of what endless wars are doing to those who fight them and those whose lives they touch (parents, girlfriends, spouses, kids, etc) is beyond brutal. If it were up to me, I’d make it required reading for every person who seeks federal office, and every voter who casts a vote in a federal election.

From my own personal perspective, I know some of the things I said while a candidate I never would have said had I known then what I learned from They Were Soldiers.

As for voters, especially political activist types, the support for candidates across the spectrum, from Donald Trump to Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio to Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton, just wouldn’t be there if voters were informed, truly informed, about this subject. For example, when pressed, many in the Ready for Hillary crowd will acknowledge that she’s “too hawkish” for their taste. If they understood fully the real cost of that hawkishness, they’d likely re-order their priorities. If they read They Were Soldiers, they’d know that a portion of the gun violence their candidate of choice rails against so eloquently was committed by veterans whose brains were irretrievably scrambled by the wars of choice she supported.

Readers here have read countless times how the cost of war is borne by a tiny slice, perhaps 1%, of our society. And we have some understanding of the nature of that cost — the lost lives, the lost limbs and eyesight, the lifelong disability, the drug addiction, the PTSD. Speaking for myself, however, I never grasped how horrific that cost is, and how the brutal reality is hidden from the rest of us.

I’ll get pushback about this to be sure. Steve will comment based on his experience in Vietnam. Other vets who read these pages may chime in. As always, I welcome the conversation. But I have one request. Whether before or after commenting, buy the book and read it. The price is down to $7.88 on Kindle, and it’s a relatively short read.

Of course, no mater what injustice we face, it connects to America’s extreme economic injustice. Jones makes that connection thusly:

The financial dynamics of war-making are rarely mentioned in connection with America’s economic woes, but from the [war] profiteers’ point of view, widening income inequality might be seen as a contribution to national security. During the past 12 years of wars, defined from the start as “endless,” the ranks of the poor have increased exponentially, while public services like the education system that once enabled them to rise above have decayed, ensuring that a supply of deluded kids, impoverished in every way, will don the uniforms of soldiers and perform the next round of America’s unnecessary wars.

They Were Soldiers is not for the faint of heart. There is not one passage that could be considered entertaining. So, if you read books for that purpose alone, skip it. But, if you value being informed, They Were Soldiers is a must read.


  1. No pushback here, Bob. I read this book a while back and was impressed at her grasp of what goes on in the aftermath of war. Most civilians never understand it, or if they start to, they look away. War is not nice, it is not pretty and it is not civilized. Von Clausewitz said that war was an extension of politics by a different means. He also emphasized that, to be effective, it should the last resort of politics. Our politicians today often use it long before it is needed because doing so makes them look decisive and forceful. Unfortunately making such committments early left them little wiggle room during negotiations and that resulted in confusing instructions for the military, lukewarm support for the actions of the military and the unintended consequences of thousands of broken lives of soldiers coming home.

    My career was with small units/light fighters, and when it was created, the Special Operation Command. My secondary specialty was a Foreign Area Officer for the Middle East and North Africa. I mention this only becuase we were used more than any other group in deploying for these “adventures” thought up by the Presidents and other politicians. As such, we incurred the casualties more. That was made more damaging because we were a small group to begin with. So small that everyone pretty much knew everyone else, if only by reputation. The losses were felt severely. The Pentagon’s answer was to expand our ranks and train more of us. In turn, that meant more casualties. A lot of casualties incurred that never made it to the news.

    The primary reason my Wife asked me to retire was because of the burden she saw me carrying as a result of the casualties. I watched many of these men from the time they were hurt through the time they left the service. I kept in touch with many of them after left the service and saw the decline in their health and the quality of their lives as a result of their service. I saw the inadequate (read: pathetic) care provided by the VA for their problems. It was/is even worse for those suffering from PTSD. You really couldn’t see their hurt and so treatment was/is even worse.

    I applaud you, Bob, for being willing to look at the truth where this is concerned. Not many are. It is much more common to talk about how much you appreciate the sacrifice of these men, have a few honorary luncheons and fundraisers for them, and then go about your business feeling you have “done something” without ever really seeing the problem. I don’t wish to belittle the effort of these people – God knows it is a 1000 times better than when I returned home from Vietnam – but more should be done to really try and heal these casualties.

    I don’t talk about this much because it makes people uncomfortable. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to do so.

  2. I’m not the only one to realize that they way to end our endless wars is to bring back the draft.

    No deferments for rich kids with fake medical excuses like Trump’s.

    Watch how fast everyone under 20 is suddenly up to date on world affairs.

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