Combat Zone: True Tales of GI’s In Iraq – Karl Zinsmeister

Karl Zinsmeister was a journalist embedded with a U.S. regiment during the Iraq war. This graphic novel is adapted from the books and newspaper columns he wrote during that time.

If this was a work of fiction it would be great. There are charming characters, realistic dialogue, tension and drama, clear cut heroes and villains and a happy-ish ending. Because this is supposed to represent fact it is a very dangerous text.

The Americans are quite clearly the good guys. Lots of emphasis is put on the rules of engagement and the extraordinary lengths the military goes to to avoid civilian casualties and property damage. Equally prevalent are the tales of cowardly acts perpetrated by the people who had their country invaded who clearly deserve to be killed.

If you put a journalist in a military unit it stands to reason you will choose your most sensible one and tell everyone to be on their best behaviour. You would probably pick a person sympathetic to your cause too. There is always the possibility that Zinsmeister didn’t witness any US atrocities, civilian casualties, friendly-fire incidents, cultural insensitivity, looting and profiteering, or anything else that has happened in every war since time began. Or it might be with a strict brief and limited page count he chose to leave them out.

This isn’t journalism here. This is a lovely feel good piece about the way wars should be fought and the wholesome, lovable, well-rounded people we would choose to fight them – assuming we need to fight wars at all obviously. There is no objectivity here.

Most of the violence happens off screen apart from the final few pages and only two Americans died. The faceless, nameless, evil enemy remain such and get no humanising treatment. This isn’t Platoon with a war is hell message, or even Band of Brothers. Everyone seems to be having a lot more fun, and smiling, and telling stories than you would think during a war.

There is tech on show, new words to acquire, procedures to observe and other things to learn. There is an unexpected mention of the CIA and their role too. The art is good with explosions and action making for prime visual candy. Ultimately this is a dumbed down feel-good piece which is a shame as this doesn’t do justice to the stories of the men who are actually getting shot at and risking not coming home to their loved ones. TV programmes such as Over There did a fine job of exposing the broader picture and emotional issues of this conflict. This could have gone so differently and so it gets the No Thumbs!

153/212.

Tomorrow: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 1- Ronin  – Stan Sakai

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