At one point in 2004-2005 I read a book or two a week. In retrospect, it was a phenomenal time. Some of my earliest memories are of reading soo much. At one point, I remember that my brother and I were so engrossed that our father took our books away from us when we had visitors, because otherwise we’d just retreat to our room and read. Anyway, since 04-05 there’s been a long, slow decline in my reading volume. I’ve recently made a conscious effort to pick up my old reading habit.

This weekend I read Joker One A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by Donovan Campbell. My review? RUN out  to borrow/buy it. It’s amazing stuff. /End book review.

Here are three thoughts inspired by the book.

1) Read Joker One to learn about leadership. Joker One does an amazing job of elegantly boiling down what leadership comes down to. In his final few pages he boils it down to one, elegant, powerful word. I have never heard of leadership described in this manner but once I read it, it resonated. I won’t call out what it is here, because, honestly, it’s a powerful culmination of the 300 pages that came before it. Discussing it out of context not only fails to give it its due, but also to spoils the powerfulness of its words and meaning when you read it. Obviously leading men in battle, with the weighty consequence of life and death surrounding you, is far different than civilian leadership. Yet the lessons and universality of the questions the author raises should speak to anyone who has or will be put in a position of leadership. Great stuff.

2) I’ve posted previously about Generation Kill. Glimpses into the military have always enthralled me. As I read Joker One, I literally felt as if I could sniff war. I finished the book about an hour ago, and I’m struck by the same thoughts I always have: It’s almost criminal how we turn a blind eye to our unpleasant truths. War movies fail at the box office when the country is at war. People tune out the news when the death toll or other such updates are reported. No one complains when the media closes their war-locale reporting bureau. We don’t want to talk about the thousands of dead and those badly maimed and injured. We don’t pay attention to the horror stories of the lack of long-term medical treatment and job opportunities afforded upon soldiers when they return. We turn a blind eye to the rampant PTSD.

But this is all after the fact. What responsibility do we all bear, as citizens, for how much we know about the foreign policy that guides these troop deployments? Troops do their part by answering the call, charging towards gunfire, and following orders. The dictates that guide them are from the highest levels of the military following the orders of the highest levels of government. We put those people into power, and so, ultimately, are responsible for those orders. They represent our will. As easy as it is for us to get bogged down in our lives, our trials and tribulations, it’s our greater responsibility to think deeply and honestly about our views. They guide the fate of so many of our brothers and sisters.

Ultimately, society is a grand bargain. We are inextricably interdependent. It would be a shame if the only ones holding up their end of the deal are the ones risking their lives to follow orders and represent America.

Have we done our duty honorably?

3) After reading Joker One, you literally feel an emotional connection to the marines in the story. You care for them. Admire them. Like them. Empathize with them. That’s not terribly surprising: Even if you took a group who have no reason to respect or admire, but dive into their life, you’d almost certainly find a compelling, story that would elicit empathy. This is why it’s always struck me as strange, the amount of contempt that we have for strangers. Instead of the benefit of the doubt (forget kindness), we often are ready to believe the worst in others. What if you thought about each random person you met, and put in their place someone you cared about: an old friend or family member. I’ve just read this book, and since I’ve never met any of these amazing marines, they could literally be any of the strangers I’ll bump into next week. How would I treat them if I knew who they were? How would I treat a stranger if I didn’t know their personal story? What does this say about us?

Now: go buy Joker One.

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