“The Fifth Act: The End of America in Afghanistan”, by Elliot Ackerman, Penguin Press, 276 pages, $27.
The first anniversary of the end of our country’s longest war came last month. The chaotic withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan was watched by global audiences appalled at the defeat of the world’s most powerful military by a Taliban mob numbering 75,000. Elliot Ackerman offers his unique perspective on the debacle in his latest book, “The Fifth Act.”
Ackerman was a decorated naval officer who fought in Fallujah during the Iraq War. His insightful book, “Places and Names,” received a positive review in this space on July 14, 2019. Subsequently, he served in Afghanistan both as a Navy Special Warfare Officer leading a combined joint special operations task force and the CIA as part of a Counter Terrorist Pursuit Team which included Afghan forces, he left the military and the CIA to become a civilian writer in 2011. Obviously he has a first-hand knowledge of his subject.
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Readers shouldn’t expect a militaristic rant or political screed like that of Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, whose 17-year military career ended because of a video he made criticizing our withdrawal. rushed out of the country. They will soon realize that Ackerman is a skilled writer capable of describing his family vacation in Italy while simultaneously trying to organize the evacuation of distraught Afghan families left behind at Kabul airport for the last few minutes before the Taliban don’t take over.
Beginning with a quote from the ancient Roman poet Horace, which explains the title and format of the book like a play, the author is equally comfortable with references to “The Iliad”, “The Godfather “, “The Sound and the Fury” and “The Princess Bride.”
His graphic depictions of the battles he fought in Afghanistan crackle with intensity, and his long-range attempts to secure last-minute access to desperate Afghans trying to get out of the airport using his many military contacts are thrilling. sore. Surprisingly, our government had failed to make these plans, and private citizens like Ackerman were the only hope of rescuing the Afghans.
The real value of this book, however, is Ackerman’s hard-earned credibility as an observer of our foreign policy in the Middle East. From George Bush to Joe Biden, no administration escapes his scathing commentary. His distaste for pointless wars that cannot be won is palpable.
His satirical suggestion for a single war memorial in Washington, D.C. should be read with James Reston Jr.’s “A Rift in the Earth,” the Vietnam Memorial history reviewed in this space on January 8, 2018. His warning about the danger of politicizing our all-volunteer military and its recasting of Dwight Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex as today’s political-industrial complex is sobering.
This reviewer thanked Ackerman for his military service after reading his previous book. He now deserves another thank you for his service as a civilian.
J. Kemper Campbell, MD, is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who often finds American foreign policy as confusing as the Cretan Labyrinth.