Black Hearts by Jim Frederick
Black Hearts focuses on one platoon while also covering their larger company, larger battalion, and somewhat of the brigade leadership. The platoon was in Iraq, in the area termed Triangle of Death due to its high frequency of danger and death. The book opens with a prelude, a few soldiers had gone to a nearby house, raped a girl and killed her and the family. The book looks to tell the story of the platoon and those involved that led to such an event. From mid-2005 to mid-2006 the platoon endured many hard ships. They would be outside the wire (inside is generally considered to be a place of relative safety, armor not needed, rest to be had, food to eat, latrines) for months on end. Constantly on patrol with fewer than regulation number of soldiers. Experiencing IEDs, sometimes multiple in one day. Often the result was a ringing in the ears for hours and light headache. At times it meant seeing a fellow soldier get blown up in front of their eyes. Their leadership suffered many casualties within a short time frame. There was a constant discourse between upper levels of leadership and those soldiers at the ground level. Upper leadership insisted on following the standard in all regards and get the job done. Lower insisted they didn’t have the man power to follow standard and it being exposed to so much death and destruction without safe rest meant adapting to the environment. Other platoons had some rough times but not at this degree. Some soldiers equated the experience with IEDs like checking the mailbox. You must check for mail daily, but 25% of the time you get blown up. It may or may not kill you and there is no way to not check the mailbox. At a certain point, you just wish to be dead, so you could be free of this torture. The book shows the struggles and efforts of the men. It shows the brave efforts and struggles of the whistleblower and how the guilty men were sentenced to jail.
How it influenced me
At times this book can be a rough read and yet it is crucial in getting closer to understanding the types of experiences these brave men endure during their time at war. At times I would have to laugh even though the content in itself wasn’t funny, but more so as unintentional coping mechanism for how bad things were going. It is incredible to see the uncountable red flags that show up time and time again. How it is hard to place the blame on one person, and yet so many could have acted differently in many moments which could have led to more desirable outcomes. The sadness of seeing ill effects from the confirmation bias in effect, seeing the blame being pushed around, seeing a tough guy v. tough guy approach, seeking to demand rather than understand. How your mindset is will influence how you think about each event you encounter. That in turn can enhance or shift your mindset as well. It can be hard, but it is imperative to be aware of how you’re thinking and put effort into maintaining effective thoughts. This needs to be done early on and consistently.