House to House reads like an action novel, only its action is real, so the subplots do not always sort themselves out in a tidy fashion. Not all of the sympathetic characters come through alive, although the bad guys do get their asses most emphatically whupped.
A passage that caught my eye this morning concerned an embedded journalist and his interaction with the soldiers he accompanied into battle. Sgt. Bellavia’s platoon was among the very first to breach the railroad berm north of Fallujah and make contact with the enemy during the Coalition assault on the city in November 2004. The author’s account of the urban combat that followed is brutal and gripping. It will make you proud of our military and what they have managed to accomplish, even as their political leaders cut the legs from under them.
A seasoned freelance Australian reporter named Michael Ware was embedded with Sgt. Bellavia’s platoon. Mr. Ware had previously reported from amongst the insurgent mujahideen, and as a result was viewed with some suspicion by the soldiers of the U.S. Army. However, after a series of firefights in which the journalist demonstrated his sang-froid and his dedication to the job, he earned the respect of the soldiers he accompanied into battle.
At one point during a lull in the fighting. Mr. Ware is drawn into a conversation with Sgt. Bellavia and his platoon, and is induced to discuss what he knows about the enemy insurgents (pp. 180-181):
Ware notices he has his audience’s complete attention. He takes the opportunity to segue into a discourse on the different groups we are fighting in Fallujah. He talks about Hezbollah, and the type of training the Iranian Revolutionary Guard gives to the insurgents. That leads him into a tactical discussion. He compares the insurgents who fought in Samarra to those in Najaf. He speaks of the Iranian influence on Sunni Wahhabis. He goes on to explain how Hezbollah-trained squads sometimes carry nothing but RPGs and move without detection. When they attack, they volley-fire their RPGs, then fan out as they retreat. These are all the things Fitts and I have talked about for months, have heard through the infantry grapevine. But I am impressed to hear the same things from a journalist.- - - - - - - - -
And then there are the insurgents’ ambush tactics. Ware has seen or heard of them all. He explains how they’ll probe an American unit just to get a response. Then the probing element will break contact and withdraw with the hope that the Americans will chase them. If the Americans do give chase, they’ll run smack into a horseshoe-shaped or L-shaped ambush and get blown away.
In Fallujah, we face an insurgent global all-star team. It includes Chechen snipers, Filipino machine gunners, Pakistani mortar men,, and Saudi suicide bombers. They’re all waiting for us down the street.
Ware is an authority on the enemy. He knows more about them than our own intelligence officers. I hang on every word and try to remember everything he tells us. It is the best, most comprehensive discussion I’ve heard about the enemy since arriving in Iraq.
And it comes from a f***ing reporter.
Sgt. Bellavia’s account reminds us that the information war is the most important part of the current conflict, whether it is fought amid the rubble of Fallujah, in the back alleys of Malmö, or in the federal criminal courts in Texas.
Our traditional structures — the institutions that we have long trusted, be they civil or military — can no longer be relied upon to collect and propagate useful information in a timely fashion. Ordinary citizens are obliged to find new ways of communicating, and form new structures to collect and act on information.
Sgt. Bellavia engaged in his own version of this updated information war when he decided to rely on a stringer for CNN instead of Army Intelligence when gathering actionable data for the men under his command.
It’s a new war out there.
Mr. Woody: you’re still going to get this copy of the book. Dymphna gave me an extension to let me finish it, but the book will get mailed to you eventually. :)