A powerfully written firsthand account of the human costs of conflict.
J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the US State Department in some of the most dangerous frontline locations. Upon his return home, while traveling the country to pay respect to the dead and wounded, he asked himself: When will these wars end? How will they be remembered and memorialized? What lessons can we learn from them?
These are questions with no quick answers but perhaps ones that might lead to a shared reckoning worthy of the sacrifices of those - troops and civilians alike - whose lives have been changed by more than a decade and a half of war.
Weston takes us from Twentynine Palms in California to Fallujah in Iraq, Khost and Helmand in Afghanistan, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, and New York City as well as to out-of-the-way places in Iowa and Texas. We meet generals, corporals and captains, senators and ambassadors, NATO allies, Iraqi truck drivers, city councils, imams and mullahs, Afghan schoolteachers, madrassa and college students, former Taliban fighters and ex-Guantánamo prison detainees, a torture victim, SEAL and Delta Force teams, and many marines.
The overall frame for the book, from which the title is taken, centers on soldiers who have received grievous wounds to the face. There is a moment during their recovery when they must look upon their reconstructed appearances for the first time. This is known as "the mirror test". From an intricate tapestry of voices and stories - Iraqi, Afghan, and American - Weston delivers a larger mirror test for our nation in its global role. An unflinching and deep examination of the interplay between warfare and diplomacy, this is an essential book - a crucial look at America now, how it is viewed in the world, and how the nation views itself.
"Kael Weston is the conscience of our wars. After spending more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other American diplomat, he has emerged with a powerful-yet-nuanced story of sacrifice, misadventure, humanity and resilience. This is not another war memoir or a volume of combat reportage, but one of the few truly great and enduring books about America in the post-9/11 world." (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City and Little America)
"Kael Weston is an American hero. He has spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any general, diplomat, journalist or grunt. He has seen the wars up close, lived their cultures, watched people die. As a front-line political officer for the State Department, Weston has perhaps seen more of Iraq and Afghanistan than any single American. But what makes this book special - what makes Weston special - is his ability to transcend his own experience and bring it all home, and force us, as Americans, to ask ourselves the larger questions that these wars demand. This is a necessary book, and one that will last." (Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War)
"Few Americans have served their country with greater courage, commitment and lucidity than Kael Weston. As the United States comes to terms with over a decade of war, it needs his values and vision." (Roger Cohen, author of The Girl from Human Street and Soldiers and Slaves)
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