“The Best Book About the Iraq War Isn’t About the Iraq War”

Douglas Ollivant, a retired US Army officer who served two tours in Iraq, and a former National Security Council Director and Senior Advisor in Afghanistan, wrote this review for War on the Rocks  (June 30, 2016):

Iraq veterans finally have their book; a manuscript that really deals with the whole of the Iraq experience. After over a decade at war in Iraq, we now have the best first-person account, not only of fighting against the insurgency, but also what it felt like to come home after. The book gives the most vivid account of what it is like to return to a society that doesn’t understand or support your war. It also draws some conclusions about what this all means for the larger Middle East.

But the best book about the Iraq War isn’t actually about the Iraq War. In Pumpkinflowers, Matti Friedman tells the story of a small outpost — called the Pumpkin, thus the title (“flowers” refers to the code word for wounded soldiers) — during the unnamed Israeli occupation of Lebanon’s “security zone” in the 1990s. The many clear parallels between these two experiences are, quite frankly, haunting. While the two experiences are not identical, they appear plagiarized from each other.


Matti Friedman has done a great service in helping Americans understand our own unpopular and ambiguous war by giving us the lens of Israel’s unpopular and ambiguous war. That his own purpose doubtless has more to do with his own demons is beside the point. I cannot recommend this work enough to those who want to understand the American experience in Iraq through the experience of another nation. This is true regardless of whether one reads despite having no experience in Iraq, or because one is burdened by it.

Read more here.