The Tender Solider tells the story of the Human Terrain System, a social science experiment to bridge the gap between American troops and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Small teams of trained individuals would work alongside the US Army to help interpret the local culture and collect relevant information. While many people worked on this program with noble intentions, it didn't stay that way for long. Because the program grew too quickly to make proper evaluations and adjustments, many problems emerged. For instance, the teams were not receiving sufficient training before being sent into a combat zone. But a major ethical complication arose: the anthropologists were helping the Army better understand the Afghanis, but that turned out to be a double edged sword because "'good anthropology' might lead to 'better killing'"(p. 115) Many social scientists were concerned about the direction the program was heading.
The Human Terrain System is made personal in the story of Paula Loyd and Don Ayala. Loyd was a Wellesley grad who was working as the social scientist on a Human Terrain Team in Afghanistan. Ayala, one of her teammates, was a former Army Ranger. As they were collecting information one day, a horrific tragedy occurred that changed their lives forever. This event is woven through the book, interspersed with information about the inception and outcome of the Human Terrain System.
Gezari's background as a journalist comes through as she includes almost 100 pages of notes. Additionally, she flew around the United States and to Afghanistan to conduct personal interviews. She spoke with everyone from the founders of the Human Terrain System, to Army generals, to current Human Terrain Team trainees, to local Afghanistan police.
This book helped me put together the pieces of the war in Afghanistan - there was so much I didn't know or understand. Now I have a much better picture of what has happened in the years since September 11th. My copy of this book is full of underlining and annotations. As I read, I kept stopping to tell my husband about it and ask how much he knew about the Human Terrain System. Even as an officer in the Air Force, he didn't know much about the program, but his interested in the book was piqued so he plans on reading it now.
The book was gripping, but its ending was especially sobering. In the last few chapters I had assumed that everything would come together, but you are left with more questions than answers. Of course, there are no easy answers for war and this is even further muddled by the addition of anthropology being used an intelligence source. This book will keep me thinking for a long time to come.
Simon & Schuster has graciously offered a copy of this book for one of you! I love sharing good books and I hope that you take a moment to enter either for yourself or for someone else who would be interested in this book!
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Winner will be chosen using a random number generator next Saturday (September 7th). I will make a note here when the winner is chosen and then will contact the winner. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. Good luck!