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Soldiers bring Iraq battle to books

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Most battlefield accounts out of Iraq have come from journalists, but a number of combatants are writing memoirs. That adds a new voice to the 24/7 information coming out of the war.

"I like to use a football analogy," says John Crawford, whose The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq is now on sale. "A sports reporter can write in depth and give you a good idea of the game, but you really don't get it until you play it."

In 2002, Crawford, who was two credits short of a college degree, was called up for active duty while on his honeymoon. His National Guard unit entered Iraq on the first day of the invasion in 2003.

During his breaks from patrolling the streets of Baghdad, he began writing about his experiences. Others have done the same:

*Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army by Kayla Williams will be published in September.

Coming in October:

*Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq by Jason Christopher Hartley.

*My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell.

*One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick.

Journalist Evan Wright, whose 2004 best-selling Generation Kill recounts his being embedded with Fick's platoon in 2003, says that no matter how closely journalists get to the battlefield, "there's a huge difference when you are not a participant."

Combatants, Wright says, are able to "bring to their stories the moral burden of what they're doing."

Some question the value of accounts that have been quickly turned around. "Memoirs in general aren't of any quality or use until enough time has passed that somebody can put some perspective on what they went through," author and military historian Caleb Carr says. "There's no way to give this war a chance to mean anything because we're judging it so quickly."

Carr also questions the value of discussing soldiers' drug abuse and other problems that Crawford details in his book. "If you have any concern for the guys still over there, you're not doing them any favors by writing a book like that. Soldiers are (angry about) the extent to which this country is ignoring what's going on. People will only ignore it more when they hear stories like that."

Says Crawford: "Not wanting to hear something is not a reason not to write about it. We idolize soldiers, but the fact is they're a reflection of society. They're just regular people in a stressful situation, and I don't think it reflects badly on them at all to show how they react. They are professionals, but they're still human beings."

Thanks to e-mail and blogs, Americans are used to having immediate access to what soldiers are thinking, says John Mutter, editor of Shelf Awareness, a book industry e-newsletter. "People want to know more about what's really happening. I'd be surprised if these books didn't do well."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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