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Friday, July 28, 2006

The Blog's First Book Review

So, I just finished a terrific book that I want to recommend, when it comes out. We got a review copy at the newspaper; you'll have to wait until October.

It's called From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava, by Marine Lt. Col Jay Kopelman, with Melinda Roth (The Man Who Talks to Dogs).

It's the story of a battle-hardened Marine's determination to get the mongrel pup his unit rescued from a bombed-out building in Fallujah, safely to the United States. The pup who pees in his sleeping bag, barfs toothpaste in his face, eats maps, boots, cell phones, pillows, and "some grunt's only pair of socks."

To make that happen - in clear violation of the military's no-pets rule - he had to get help from comrades, Iraqis, National Public Radio reporters, civilian defense contractors, the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego, and the Iams pet-food company.

Friends and strangers literally risked their lives taking little Lava - named for the Hawaii-based Lava Dogs unit, aka First Battalion, Third Marines - across dangerous checkpoints and international borders.

When Lava finally arrives in California, Kopelman meets him surrounded by the media. By this time, he's seen - and caused - who knows how many deaths. He's seen close friends seriously wounded and many Lava Dogs killed. He's seen Iraqi children blown up and cities reduced to rubble. He's been shot at day after day for months, gone weeks at a time without a shower, and been so exhausted that not even ordnance screaming overhead could awaken him.

Someone asks: "What would you tell people who might suggest your time would have been better spent saving people instead of a dog?"

Kopelman writes: "I stared off into the middle distance and tried to look like I was fashioning my profound answer in some profound way, but the only thing I could come up with for those who might question my time management in Iraq was that we're not supposed to save anybody, it's not our job, and if it was, we'd be shipping peace activists by the boatload over there to try to talk the insurgents into liking us.

"But you can't say that out loud and receive applause.

"Besides, Lava wasn't a little Iraqi kid the guys found alone when they stormed the compound [and] does anyone really think we would have just left a little kid there to die...? Why wasn't my time spent helping people isntead of a puppy? I don't know, and I don't care, but at least I saved something."

No matter how you feel about the war, this is a great read, offering insights into the conflict that you won't find in the news, and yet more evidence that the bond between people and animals transcends every man-made barrier.

Indeed, the reason why the military forbids pets in a war zone is because they humanize the combatants.

Kopelman writes: "General Order 1-A is taken pretty seriously by the military. No pets allowed. That's because they've invested a lot of time and money into trashing your moral clarity, and they don't want anything like compassion messing things up. Your job is to shoot the enemy, period, and if anything close to compassion rears its ugly head, you better shoot that down too, or you're in some deep, scary s---."

To which I have to say: "Lava, Kopelman saved your life, and it seems like you saved his, too. May you live well, and long."


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