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A powerfully written firsthand account of the human costs of conflict, The Mirror Test asks that we as a nation look in the mirror and address hard questions about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the State Department. The U.S. government sent him to some of the most dangerous frontli A powerfully written firsthand account of the human costs of conflict, The Mirror Test asks that we as a nation look in the mirror and address hard questions about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the State Department. The U.S. government sent him to some of the most dangerous frontline locations. Upon his return home, traveling the country to pay respect to the killed and wounded, he asked himself: How and when will these wars end? How will they be remembered and memorialized? What lessons can we learn from them? Questions with no quick answers, but perhaps ones that might lead to a shared reckoning worthy of the sacrifices of those, troops and civilians alike, whose lives have been changed by more than a decade and a half of war. With a novelist's eye, Weston takes us from Twenty Nine Palms in California to Fallujah in Iraq, Khost to Helmand in Afghanistan, Maryland to Colorado, Wyoming to New York City, as well as to out-of-the-way places in Iowa and Texas. We meet generals, corporals and captains, senators and ambassadors, NATO allies, Iraqi truck drivers, city councils, imams and mullahs, Afghan schoolteachers, madrassa and college students, former Taliban fighters and ex-Guantanamo Prison detainees, a torture victim, SEAL and Delta Force teams, and many Marines. The overall frame for the book, from which the title is taken, centers on soldiers who have received a grievous wound to the face. There is a moment during their recovery when they must look upon their reconstructed appearance for the first time. This is known as "the mirror test." Here, like grains of sand, Weston gathers these voices and stories--Iraqi, Afghan, and American--and polishes them into a sheet of glass, one he offers to us as a national mirror. What Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie did for Vietnam, The Mirror Test does for Iraq and Afghanistan. An unflinching and deep examination of the interplay between warfare and diplomacy, it is an essential book--a crucial look at America now, how it is viewed in the world, and how the nation views itself.


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A powerfully written firsthand account of the human costs of conflict, The Mirror Test asks that we as a nation look in the mirror and address hard questions about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the State Department. The U.S. government sent him to some of the most dangerous frontli A powerfully written firsthand account of the human costs of conflict, The Mirror Test asks that we as a nation look in the mirror and address hard questions about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the State Department. The U.S. government sent him to some of the most dangerous frontline locations. Upon his return home, traveling the country to pay respect to the killed and wounded, he asked himself: How and when will these wars end? How will they be remembered and memorialized? What lessons can we learn from them? Questions with no quick answers, but perhaps ones that might lead to a shared reckoning worthy of the sacrifices of those, troops and civilians alike, whose lives have been changed by more than a decade and a half of war. With a novelist's eye, Weston takes us from Twenty Nine Palms in California to Fallujah in Iraq, Khost to Helmand in Afghanistan, Maryland to Colorado, Wyoming to New York City, as well as to out-of-the-way places in Iowa and Texas. We meet generals, corporals and captains, senators and ambassadors, NATO allies, Iraqi truck drivers, city councils, imams and mullahs, Afghan schoolteachers, madrassa and college students, former Taliban fighters and ex-Guantanamo Prison detainees, a torture victim, SEAL and Delta Force teams, and many Marines. The overall frame for the book, from which the title is taken, centers on soldiers who have received a grievous wound to the face. There is a moment during their recovery when they must look upon their reconstructed appearance for the first time. This is known as "the mirror test." Here, like grains of sand, Weston gathers these voices and stories--Iraqi, Afghan, and American--and polishes them into a sheet of glass, one he offers to us as a national mirror. What Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie did for Vietnam, The Mirror Test does for Iraq and Afghanistan. An unflinching and deep examination of the interplay between warfare and diplomacy, it is an essential book--a crucial look at America now, how it is viewed in the world, and how the nation views itself.

30 review for The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    The mood that is presented in J. Kael Weston’s powerful new book, THE MIRROR TEST: AMERICA AT WAR IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN is one of horror, empathy, skepticism, anger, and little hope that the American government has learned its lessons in dealing with cultures that are in many ways the antithesis of our own. Weston immediately explains how he arrived at the title, THE MIRROR TEST by describing the reaction of an American Marine who is unwrapping his bandages following a horrific burn injury, an The mood that is presented in J. Kael Weston’s powerful new book, THE MIRROR TEST: AMERICA AT WAR IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN is one of horror, empathy, skepticism, anger, and little hope that the American government has learned its lessons in dealing with cultures that are in many ways the antithesis of our own. Weston immediately explains how he arrived at the title, THE MIRROR TEST by describing the reaction of an American Marine who is unwrapping his bandages following a horrific burn injury, and is looking at himself in a mirror for the first time. For Weston, the American people should look at themselves in the mirror as they have supported in one way or another fifteen years of war since 9/11. Weston was a State Department official who served over seven years in some of the most dangerous spots for a “diplomat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of his time was spent in Fallujah in Anbar province in Iraq, the remainder in Khost and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan. Because of the calamitous injuries suffered by US Marines the author has witnessed, he finally comes to the realization that he has seen too much. Our country has demanded so much from so few, and it seems that we as a people have forgotten about the sacrifices these men and women have made. In the latter part of the narrative Weston describes his journey throughout the United States as he tries to visit the families, memorials, and grave sites of the thirty one soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 in the Anbar Desert, an operation that the author ordered. Weston, who worked at the United Nations as part of the American delegation volunteered to serve in Iraq, even though he opposed the war. He became a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority whose job was to oversee the occupation of Iraq. From the beginning Weston believed the United States was in over its head, and thirteen years later that belief has not changed. He describes the invasion of Iraq as “mission impossible” due to our ignorance and unrealistic expectations. Weston believed it was important to go beyond the “Green Zone” and learn the truth about Iraq and its people. Working with Iraqi truckers who had their unique version of “teamsters;” visiting schools, Madrassas, Iraqi religious leaders, and the homes of Iraqi citizens where he gained insights and knowledge that made him one of the most respected and knowledgeable Americans in the country. Weston observed an “imperialistic disconnect” between the local populations and Americans that has not changed since the war’s outset. Weston integrates the history of the war that has been repeated elsewhere by numerous journalists and historians, but what separates his account is how he intersperses his personal experiences, relationships, and evaluation of events as the narrative progresses. He has done a great deal of research in formulating his opinions and provides numerous vignettes throughout the book. One of the most interesting was the discussion of the Jewish Academy that existed in Fallujah, the Sunni stronghold, where the Talmud was supposedly written during the Babylonian era. As the book evolves the reader acquires the “feel of war” that existed in Anbar and all the areas that Weston was posted. For Weston, American policymakers should have followed the advice of the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, Sun Tzu who wrote in ART OF WAR; “In the art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy is not good.” It has been proven that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and the rest of Bush’s cadre of neocons never took into account the opinions of others who had greater experience in war and the Middle East region in general. Weston describes the malfeasance that highlights US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, a malfeasance that US Marines had to work around and for many pay with their lives. Weston touches on things that most writers do not, i.e., his interactions and the role of Mortuary Affairs crews; visits to the “potato factory” or mortuary building; coping methods of people who worked there; accompanying Marines on body recovery missions and dealing with booby-trapped bodies; and dealing with the burial process that would assuage Iraqi religious beliefs. Weston includes the names and hometowns of each Marine that have been killed in Iraq that he was aware of. What is abundantly clear in presenting these lists is that the majority of American casualties were in there early twenties and where from small town across America, the towns that bore the unequal burden of these wars. Weston is extremely perceptive in his views and they explain why we will never be successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. First, by keeping ourselves separate from the Iraqi people, we make more enemies. Second, the perception we give off is that our lives are deemed more valuable than theirs. Our way of dealing with a crisis, be it collateral damage, errors, or just plain stupidity on the part of military planners is to pay the aggrieved families money – we even had a scale of what a life was worth – at times $2,000 per life or $6,000 referred to as “martyr payments.” Weston’s approach in Iraq and Afghanistan was very hands on and taking risks that he felt would enhance America’s relationship with local people. Whether dealing with poor villagers, Imans or Mullahs, Islamic students, Taliban leaders, regional officials, warlords, and any group or person deemed important, Weston’s approach was “out of the box” and designed to further trust and reduce tensions surrounding the US presence. He worked hard to alter the views of the locals that the United States was out to take over the Muslim world. For example he recommended increased funding for Madrassas students which he hoped would stem the flow of students into northwest Pakistan were they would be further radicalized. In many cases these were dangerous missions that military officials opposed. What drove Weston to distraction was the disconnect between regular Marines and US Special Forces who could conduct operations that detracted from what the Marines were trying to achieve, with no accountability. Two good examples were the kidnapping of Sara al-Jumaili that led to the murder of one of Weston’s allies, Sheik Hamza, with no explanation or accountability on the part of the Special Forces; and the torturing to death of Dilqwar of Yakubi in Bagram prison. Unlike visiting politicians who dropped in for a photo op, i.e., former Senators Jon Kyle, Arizona and Sam Brownback, Kansas, or Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, who the author singles out, Weston believed in laying the groundwork of trust to establish working relationships that would be so important for any success, but the actions of others created to many road blocks.. Weston presents a number of individuals who cooperated with his work, many of whom would be killed by al-Qaeda extremists in Fallujah, and the Taliban in Helmand province. When Weston leaves Fallujah after three years and moves on to Khost and Helmand in Afghanistan he is suffering from a crisis of confidence. When people approach him and ask “did you kill anyone?” He knows he did not do so physically, but he is fully cognizant that a number of his policy decisions led to the deaths of many Iraqis and Americans. Weston learned that “the wrong words could be more dangerous to human life than rounds fired from rifles.” Perhaps the war would have gone differently had Washington policymakers asked the same question, did you kill anyone?” Weston worked to get ex-Taliban leaders to support the Kabul government, and reintegrate former Taliban fighters back into Afghan society. This was almost impossible with the attitude and corruption that existed in Kabul. From Weston’s perspective, President Obama’s “surge” policy in 2010 was another example of wasting America’s resources as it was bound to fail. For Weston the name of Thomas Ricks’ book FIASCO is the best way to sum up what occurred and is still reoccurring in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston tells many heart rendering stories. His chapter dealing with “dignified transfers” describing how American bodies were gathered, prepared, and shipped back to the United States is eye opening. His recounting of stories concerning the reuniting of wounded veterans with their service dogs is touching. Presenting amputee veterans skiing in the Sierras provides hope. Operation Mend, a private program to assist disfigured Marines needs further support. His meetings with families as he travels across the United States is a form of personal therapy once he returns from the region for good. Weston writes with a degree of sincerity that is missing in many other accounts of the war. His approach allows the reader to get to know his subjects, at times intimately, as he shares their life stories in a warm and positive manner, particularly during his travels visiting the families of those who have fallen overseas, and those families whose offspring have had difficulty readapting to civilian life after returning home. Despite the gravity of Weston’s topic, he maintains a sense of humorous sarcasm throughout the book. My favorite is his summary of his visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library where his narration of the exhibits that discuss the war in Iraq are seen through the lens of his five and half years in Baghdad and Fallujah (the other year and a half were spent in Khost and Helmand). These are just a few of the many topics that Weston explores that should make this book required reading for anyone who has studied US foreign policy during the last fifteen years and who will make policy in the future.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the State Department. He saw up close and personal what it cost; the U.S. lack of national policy has cost our country in terms of treasure, international standing and most of all in lives. Iraqi lives, Afghan lives and our brave service members. This is an accounting of his experiences and a plea to evaluate and remember the longest war. Do we recognize the country that we have become? And how does the world see J. Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the State Department. He saw up close and personal what it cost; the U.S. lack of national policy has cost our country in terms of treasure, international standing and most of all in lives. Iraqi lives, Afghan lives and our brave service members. This is an accounting of his experiences and a plea to evaluate and remember the longest war. Do we recognize the country that we have become? And how does the world see us after Iraqi and Afghanistan? Why I started this book: Severely wounded warriors (and all patients) have a point in their healing when they must look in a mirror for the first time and see their unfamiliar face. Their face that they remember is gone and they must deal with the new reality. Some can't and that's why it's called the Mirror Test. Weston challenges us as a nation, to look in the mirror and see what Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom has done; to us, to our service members and to the world. Why I finished it: This is not a book to be read quickly or lightly. It demands consideration and time. I cried thru the whole audio. Weston mentions by name, and hometown all Americans that he served with that didn't return alive. Powerful, and a wonderful book for Memorial Day weekend. I also loved all the literary quotes that he included in his book. I will be recommending this to all who know someone who served, have any interest in political science, or consider themselves patriotic. Weston argues that we owe our service members, Iraqi citizens and Afghan citizens to think about these wars. THINK real hard. And it will be the greatest service if we think about the next war before we start it, not a decade into fighting it. Buddy Read: Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror. Hayden advocated enhanced interrogation, claiming that it saved American lives. Weston refutes these claims, as he had to listen to those who spent years in Gitmo and then were released with no explanation or apology.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kim H

    Some books you read are mirrors, causing you to reflect. Some are windows into other worlds, cultures, time periods. This book is both. In its capacity as a window, the book offers readers a view of Afghanistan and Iraq at war as seen through the eyes of a U.S. State Department official: battlefields, forward operating bases, a civilian help center, a potato factory turned morgue, meetings with tribal leaders, in convoys, across deserts, in schools, homes. Weston spent seven consecutive years th Some books you read are mirrors, causing you to reflect. Some are windows into other worlds, cultures, time periods. This book is both. In its capacity as a window, the book offers readers a view of Afghanistan and Iraq at war as seen through the eyes of a U.S. State Department official: battlefields, forward operating bases, a civilian help center, a potato factory turned morgue, meetings with tribal leaders, in convoys, across deserts, in schools, homes. Weston spent seven consecutive years there. He got to know the Marines (his "tribe") and the people in the region intimately. The book is filled with novel-esque scenes and characters and settings. Horror and hope. The best parts of the book, in my opinion, are when Mr. Weston is describing the day-to-day execution of the war, its toll on the troops, and the struggles to help the Afghans and Iraqis. It is a filtered view, to be sure, but an important one. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is that the book seemed to suffer from narrative sprawl at times. I wish it had been more succinct and focused. I think it would have made the message more powerful. More "teachable." (I could actually see using this book in a middle- or high school classroom.) While sections like the "Spirit of America" and the history of the small hometowns were informative and interesting, they seemed to dilute the overall narrative. (I'm not sure descriptions of Oscar Wilde being lowered into a mine shaft were necessary.) Perhaps it should have been two books? At one point, Mr. Weston remarks that "writing a blunt book about Iraq and Afghanistan would be a more valuable public service that taking on a high-level job in the Pentagon or State Department." I agree. This is an important book that should be read, especially by politicians and policy makers. Weston offers up a challenge to look in the mirror. A mirror that is most certainly "crack'd from side to side." I have lived long enough to know that our representatives (elected and otherwise) will never face fully (or take responsibility for) what they did (i.e. invading Iraq on the pretext of looking for weapons of mass destruction). It is the "little people" who suffer and die for their hubris, their mistakes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    DIdn't like this book quite as much as I expected. It's an account by a State Department official who served in Iraq and Afghanistan for a total of 7 years. There are a lot of remarkable moments and anecdotes in this book, but there's also an excessive amount of reckoning about America's actions in the past 15 years and griping about politicians and generals. The book could have been a lot tighter. He also develops a number of points about these conflicts to about 40% of an argument. I would hav DIdn't like this book quite as much as I expected. It's an account by a State Department official who served in Iraq and Afghanistan for a total of 7 years. There are a lot of remarkable moments and anecdotes in this book, but there's also an excessive amount of reckoning about America's actions in the past 15 years and griping about politicians and generals. The book could have been a lot tighter. He also develops a number of points about these conflicts to about 40% of an argument. I would have liked to hear him flesh out his arguments more completely. Weston is right that we need to reckon more with these 2 wars and how we have fought them (and who has and has not sacrificed, but that point doesn't make this a great book. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see what a State Department official did in these conflicts. I'd still recommend Dexter Filkins' The Forever War as an astounding journalistic/memoir account of these wars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Almost 16 years after they started, America has yet to have any kind of reckoning with its wars in the Greater Middle East, particularly the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. In part this is because the wars are still raging, despite the fact that most people have tuned them out. But it is also because it is hard to think of a way to fit these conflicts within a comforting national mythos. What were any of these wars for? What in particular what was the war in Iraq for? What sort of meaning can Almost 16 years after they started, America has yet to have any kind of reckoning with its wars in the Greater Middle East, particularly the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. In part this is because the wars are still raging, despite the fact that most people have tuned them out. But it is also because it is hard to think of a way to fit these conflicts within a comforting national mythos. What were any of these wars for? What in particular what was the war in Iraq for? What sort of meaning can be taken out so much unimaginable suffering and destruction that has given no clear benefit to anyone, including Americans? Kael Weston was a State Department official who served seven straight years in both wars, embedded on the front lines of Anbar Province in Iraq and Khost in Afghanistan. The books that he's written about this time is one of the best books I've read about war generally and undoubtedly the best I've read about America's current conflicts. Unlike a lot of American military writers Weston actually cares about the perspective of the Iraqis and Afghans and includes them as equal parts of the human drama of the war, never failing to mention that they have suffered and continue to suffer most of all. He also is a sincere admirer of the U.S. forces he is embedded with, many of whom tried to live up American ideals despite their young ages and difficult circumstances. Weston is generous and compassionate towards all those he writes about, and seems genuinely tormented by the suffering of both the civilians he befriended as well as the soldiers he embedded with. As a State Department civilian he did not carry a gun, but needed as much luck as any soldier to survive living on the frontlines in Fallujah and Khost and being shot at nearly everyday. His book is remarkably humane and the only hatred he expresses is reserved for the neoconservatives and Bush administration officials whom he blames for destroying the lives of millions as a result of these conflicts. His recollection of being unable to answer Iraqis again and again when they asked him 'what Iraq had to do with 9/11?' seemed to have planted the seed of this anger, as well as the unnecessary suffering he saw on all sides along with that. The writing in the book is very heartfelt and compelling and I breezed through the +500 pages in just a few days. But part of this was also due to the author himself, who comes across as a very admirable and fair-minded person. Weston is a sincere believer in America's professed higher values and is also painfully aware of the crimes that have caused "cracks in the mirror" of America's sense of self. His writing provides invaluable firsthand reporting from his time as a political officer embedded in Fallujah and Khost and gives a voice to the local people and individual soldiers whose stories are rarely mentioned in the larger histories of the wars. His deep admiration for the U.S. Marine Corps was quite moving and made me want to learn more about the Marines as well. He is a real humanitarian, which is rare. There have been many wars in modern history, including many that have been bloodier than Iraq and Afghanistan. But what is uniquely painful about these conflicts is that so few people in America seem to even care or notice what is going on, nor do they notice much the suffering of others over the past decade or even their own countrymen who served as soldiers. As such, Americans are generally mystified about where ISIS or Donald Trump came from, not bothering to see the connection between reckless and cruel events in the past (that have not ended) and their current malaise. In this book, Weston holds up the mirror to the United States over these wars. In doing so he helps provide the first step towards an honest and accurate reflection on everything that has been wrought over the past decade and a half, good and bad. The resulting book is a really unique accomplishment, one of the most heroic pieces of firsthand writing I've ever read. I sincerely believe that if there were more Americans like Weston who sincerely believed in their national ideals and strove to live up to them, things would have ended up so terribly over the past few years.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel

    Fact#1: I am not a US Citizen neither am I Afghan or Iraqui Fact#2: I live and always lived in Central America Fact#3: Im not a big non fiction reader Why those facts? I put them here because If one of those were the contraire I would be a logical and potential reader of «The Mirror Test». As it is not the case, I have to say marvelous situations brought me to this book, so I bought an e-copy from Amazon and started it. J. Kael Weston wrote a marvelous book, the book is divided in three big section Fact#1: I am not a US Citizen neither am I Afghan or Iraqui Fact#2: I live and always lived in Central America Fact#3: Im not a big non fiction reader Why those facts? I put them here because If one of those were the contraire I would be a logical and potential reader of «The Mirror Test». As it is not the case, I have to say marvelous situations brought me to this book, so I bought an e-copy from Amazon and started it. J. Kael Weston wrote a marvelous book, the book is divided in three big sections and a epilogue: 1. «The Wrong War» 2. «The Right War» 3. «Home» Epilogue. «After War» I have to say the first two sections are my favorite, both are so vivid that when you read them is hard to believe you are reading non-fiction; You are there and you can't stop turning pages and get surprised about what you are reading- J.K. Weston is a person of a great personality and deep thinking, a humanitarian, that you can tell from his decisions and opinions through the book; My reason to mention this is because one of the main reasons I get motivated to read non-fiction once in a while is that I always look forward to the learning experience, a conversation with a great mind, this author doesn't dissapoint you in that sense, you learn a lot. I have to mention: «Home» was my least favorite section, maybe is because it was afar from the wars and the unknown (the adventure, the danger), however that doesn't mean it is bad. As I like jogging I can relate it with that moment after a long run when you walk to relax, you still have the adrenaline, but is time for a reflexion, the real Mirror Test for America with his big population, big and small graveyards, shopping malls, museums and cities. Were this a fiction book I'd probably give 4.4 stars to it (a very honest rating), however I personally think it requires a lot of courage to write about the things he wrote about in this book. This is an important book, and even if it was not written to talk about my country or a war where my country is fighting. I believe is a must read for anyone who has a bit of conscience for this world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    An eloquent and heartfelt memoir of a diplomat turned warrior. And a humble warrior who is dismissive of his work and deeds. Weston served as the Department of State (DOS) rep in some of the most violent places in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not the typical posting for a young DOS employee. He interfaced with the big decision makers as well as the lance corporal on patrol and the average Afghan or Iraqi. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to make it better. His decisions led to the deaths of th An eloquent and heartfelt memoir of a diplomat turned warrior. And a humble warrior who is dismissive of his work and deeds. Weston served as the Department of State (DOS) rep in some of the most violent places in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not the typical posting for a young DOS employee. He interfaced with the big decision makers as well as the lance corporal on patrol and the average Afghan or Iraqi. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to make it better. His decisions led to the deaths of those around him, friends: Marines, Iraqis, and Afghans. He feels guilt. He feels powerless. He was in war zones for seven consecutive years. And it took him another six years to expiate himself with this book. I don't think you can ever fully forgive yourself. He shouldn't feel guilty but he was there. He pressed for decisions. Men died. He is too hard on himself. Fate is the final arbiter especially in aviation mishaps. We used to joke that the more you fly the more you die. He ends up making pilgrimages to the final resting places in the USA of the 31 Marines killed in a helo crash while on a voting mission in Western Iraq. The mission the Marines didn't want to fly but he insisted had to be done. This should be on the Marine's reading list. If you are a Marine you need to read this book. The Marine Corps cast its spell on Weston as it has on many prior to him. He should be an Honorary Marine. But this book is not about glory but about sacrifice and decision making. It could be called an anti-war book. The disillusionment of seeing the best of intentions result in unintended consequences. The frustration of your advice and observations being disregarded or filtered. Watching a bad situation grow worse because of a lack of political will or disregard and disrespect of local culture. It's all here as well as the attempt to find peace by visiting veterans and their families who have suffered. It's a travel or road trip book too. And it's a biography as we learn about him growing up in rural Utah. Weston had a lot to say and I think he said it. He's an able chronicler of the chaos around him as well as the beauty and spirit of place and humanity.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jojoruns

    A Deeply felt, sincere account of war time in Iraq & Afghanistan. Detailed and intense with subtleties that had me rereading passages several times. A scathing review of our nation's foreign policy with both parties subject to fair criticism. A difficult but enlightening read. A Deeply felt, sincere account of war time in Iraq & Afghanistan. Detailed and intense with subtleties that had me rereading passages several times. A scathing review of our nation's foreign policy with both parties subject to fair criticism. A difficult but enlightening read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    A frustrating, safe book. Frankly, by 2016 it wasn't all that shocking to say the Iraq War was a bad idea and to hear that American hubris was largely to blame for its failure. The book does alright through talking with people about their experiences - what makes this frustrating is that this meandering, self-congratulatory book desperately needed a editor and a compass. The first two-thirds of the book are worth reading but, by 2016, there's nothing new here - the last third feels like it was a A frustrating, safe book. Frankly, by 2016 it wasn't all that shocking to say the Iraq War was a bad idea and to hear that American hubris was largely to blame for its failure. The book does alright through talking with people about their experiences - what makes this frustrating is that this meandering, self-congratulatory book desperately needed a editor and a compass. The first two-thirds of the book are worth reading but, by 2016, there's nothing new here - the last third feels like it was a way to write off some travel expenses as the author traveled around America and decided to more or less go off on tangents wherein the voice gets weirdly regaled with trivia about, say, Leadville, Colorado while pointing out he got a medal but he's no hero (this is the second book I've read where someone attached to a Marine Corps unit writes in a way approximating that they were in the Marine Corps, The Silence of War was another) and gushing creepily about the Marine Corps.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Neal Lemery

    A solid first hand account of a diplomat working on the battlefronts of Iraq and Afghanistan. He gives us great detail and a sense of place of the quagmires of both countries' struggle between American soldiers and their enemies. His criticism of American policy and strategy is based on his experience, but lacks a sense of history. He worked closely with Iraqi and Afghan troops and leaders, yet I gained little insight into their perspectives and desires for their country. The writer never learne A solid first hand account of a diplomat working on the battlefronts of Iraq and Afghanistan. He gives us great detail and a sense of place of the quagmires of both countries' struggle between American soldiers and their enemies. His criticism of American policy and strategy is based on his experience, but lacks a sense of history. He worked closely with Iraqi and Afghan troops and leaders, yet I gained little insight into their perspectives and desires for their country. The writer never learned the native language nor did he convey a sense of their culture and desire for their nations' future. Thus, the book lacked the opportunity to more completely educate the reader on the issues and the politics of these countries.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nels

    The Mirror Test is different from other current "war" books. Based upon Kael Weston's seven consecutive years served mostly in front-line environments while attached as a State Department Representative to Marine Infantry units, he brings a wealth of first hand experience. Mr. Weston's strategic placement and duration of service offers a depth of experiences available to no other author. He deals almost daily with decision makers representing both sides of the wars ... Marine generals, Iraqi & A The Mirror Test is different from other current "war" books. Based upon Kael Weston's seven consecutive years served mostly in front-line environments while attached as a State Department Representative to Marine Infantry units, he brings a wealth of first hand experience. Mr. Weston's strategic placement and duration of service offers a depth of experiences available to no other author. He deals almost daily with decision makers representing both sides of the wars ... Marine generals, Iraqi & Afghan mullahs, mayors, etc., as well as tip-of-the spear Marine corporals and locals who were most affected by those decisions. Kael Weston leads the reader on a rich, heart-felt journey through the two war-torn countries, introducing and humanizing local residents as they deal with the stresses of war. The book is layered. Complex issues are addressed. Personalities are explored. He vividly documents tragedy and success. He crystallizes the effects of war on U.S. participants and their families, as well as on those nations where the wars were fought...all real people...non fiction! If one were to look for a single book to frame America's longest wars, this is my choice. I suspect "The Mirror Test" will be used as a primary resource by teachers and professors for years to come.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A new view of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Mirror Test offers a view of the wars from a diplomat’s view rather than a military view. The author, Weston, identifies the Iraq War as the "wrong war," (a construct of the Bush administration), and the Afghanistan War, the "right war," where the Taliban really existed and were (are) trained. He suggests that Al Qaida and Taliban forces were not largely in Iraq prior to the War there. A good read, especially for those of us who have read the s A new view of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Mirror Test offers a view of the wars from a diplomat’s view rather than a military view. The author, Weston, identifies the Iraq War as the "wrong war," (a construct of the Bush administration), and the Afghanistan War, the "right war," where the Taliban really existed and were (are) trained. He suggests that Al Qaida and Taliban forces were not largely in Iraq prior to the War there. A good read, especially for those of us who have read the soldier based stories like "War," "Lone Survivor," etc. Weston certainly forwards a different and necessary point of view. He discusses subjects from disposal of the war dead to Guantanamo.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Wow. Everyone in this country should read this book. Now. I saw the author speak on c-span and wanted to learn more and ordered the book. I was blown away by the writing and experiences that he had and how he was able to incorporate so many points of view on the countries, the wars, the local people and their struggles, as well as local Americans and military families. Absolutely outstanding.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Forrest

    This book by J. Kael Weston, a U.S. State Department spokesman and adviser, was a dreary slog. It really should not have made it to print without a ton of editing. I would call it an personal memoir or diary with a few interesting excerpts intermittently inserted. About: 75% of the content is the author's reflections on himself, his feelings about what surrounded him, his opinions, his analysis of this person or that incident. The author spends an exorbitant amount of time throughout the book la This book by J. Kael Weston, a U.S. State Department spokesman and adviser, was a dreary slog. It really should not have made it to print without a ton of editing. I would call it an personal memoir or diary with a few interesting excerpts intermittently inserted. About: 75% of the content is the author's reflections on himself, his feelings about what surrounded him, his opinions, his analysis of this person or that incident. The author spends an exorbitant amount of time throughout the book lamenting the war and the casualties, some of which he claims to have experienced firsthand. Not much more than humdrum oratory with a little insight. This seemed to drag on, it was not very engaging, and I would find myself losing interest. 25% is factual, purposeful, detailed, well-written material, events, people, histories, etc. If the author had stuck to this, it would be 300 pages shorter and a 5-star book. This book is also a tribute to soldiers from both wars who fought and lost their lives, as well as many civilians. Unfortunately, this could have been a great read, given the author's unique position and access to key players of both wars. Weston is an Alum of the University of Utah and a native of Milford, Utah. He served as a spokesman and representative for the State Department as well as a civilian adviser to the U.S. Marines during its engagement in Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan. He also worked closely with Iraqi and Afghan Islamic & government leaders. On another note, but less important, this is a very critical, emotional, and depressing take on what took place in Iraq, "the bad war" and Afghanistan, "the good war". He hi-lights all the many controversies, mistakes, loss of life (all of which, of course, should never be overlooked), but misses many of the heroic, positive, inspiring, and rewarding stories I have read of in other military accounts. Regardless, the author's intention is not to paint an entirely unbiased picture of the war, but an intention to magnify the horrors, costs, and loss of life. His writing seems to mirror that of a Fobbit, an official, or someone with a macro perspective of all that is taking place. He is very critical of the Bush Administration and it's policies in regards to the United States' engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The primary focus of the book seems to be all the mistakes and shortcomings on the part of the Department of Defense and the administration. He is particularly critical of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney who the author suggests should be punished. A Couple Side-notes: He gives detailed description of his visit to the Potato Factory which Coalition forces used to temporarily Warehouse the bodies of dead insurgents and civilians. Dilawar of Yakubi was tortured to death at Bagram detention center. He was beaten to death, not intentionally, his legs pulpified as though he had been run over by a bus.  This link is a very informative article from a University of Utah paper on the author and his experiences, with photos. https://continuum.utah.edu/features/r...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    This book wasn't bad, but it was disappointing. Weston worked for the State Department - but he wasn't based in an office in Washington DC. He spent the better part of a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in those places, he was often in the worst spots - for example spending three years as the State Department's only representative in Fallujah. He opposed the war in Iraq, but felt it was his duty to serve to try to make it work. He supported the war in Afghanistan. The book's sections on thes This book wasn't bad, but it was disappointing. Weston worked for the State Department - but he wasn't based in an office in Washington DC. He spent the better part of a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in those places, he was often in the worst spots - for example spending three years as the State Department's only representative in Fallujah. He opposed the war in Iraq, but felt it was his duty to serve to try to make it work. He supported the war in Afghanistan. The book's sections on these wars even called, "The Wrong War" and "The Right War." (There is also a 100+ page section "Home" about being back in America). The book's title comes from VA hospitals, when a badly wounded veteran first sees himself in the mirror after taking the bandages off. How will the person react? Will the person turn away and refuse to see what he's become or will he overcome the flinching to look at what he now is? The short version is that Weston doesn't think the US is doing a very good job on its national mirror test. So far, so good. So why do I only give it three stars? Well, ever heard the phrase: you can't see the forest through the trees? This book's focus is tree-level. It looks at the granular level, a collection of details, rather than the big picture. Now, that has it's advantages and can work. You can get more memorable stories to capture the reader's attention that way. And ideally you can use the small details of some trees to make some points about the overall forest. However, in this case the book's focus is very heavily upon the author's own personal experiences and his own ruminations to the point where it's hard to get any sense of a bigger picture - it's hard to get any sense of a national mirror test. Too oftne I felt I was learning more about Weston's concerns than about the nation's 21st century wars. To be fair, there are some very interesting parts in here. I especially liked a series of chapters in Afghanistan where he discussed his attempts to engage the people of the country. He went to the law school at Khost University, to the students at a local madrassa, and even to ex-Taliban fighters. His approach was simple: we need to get the people on board, even some former enemies (such as the ex-Taliban) if we're going to achieve anything here. He was annoyed by some Navy SEALS raids, because they'd fly in, achieve their basic goal, but create a big backlash - it was the normal soldiers who would pay the price with their blood in that backlash. In Afghanistan (and Iraq) people were often arrested on bad information, as locals used the US presence to go after their personal enemies, and the US often relied upon unvetted sources. Weston is a believer that the Surge in Iraq didn't work - it just displaced things a bit and served as a temporary salve - and opposed the similar strategy in Afghanstan. He disagreed with early 2010 talk of Marjah becoming Afghanistan's Fallujah (and he was in both places). Southern and eastern Afghanistan were the worst parts. Going back to Iraq, he ruefully remembers Donald Rumsfeld's pre-invasion forecast, "I can't tell you if the us of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks, or five months, but it won't last any longer than that." He notes the difference between grunts in the field and what he terms "fobbits" in the Forward Operating Bases (FOB). These were places of security and comfort where many soldiers stayed, and often put on weight. A FOB was "an armored cocoon" and the fobbits were the ones who rarely, if ever, left its comfortable digs. A FOB was a place of increasing war largesse, as supplemental funding bills kept everything flowing in. By the end, they even had regular lobster and steak Sunday night dinners along with gallons of ice cream. He notes how Gen. Larry Nicholson, who he worked with, refused to eat the good food, as it was too far removed from the chow of an average grunt. But a FOB had nothing on the Green Zone, where the Coalition Provisional Authority worked. They had their regular parties - Baghdad Karaoke, Flag Football 8 on 8, Country Night, One Howdy-Doody Good Time, Middle Eastern Dance Night - as the nation they were supposed to be administering fell apart around them. Insurgents felt humiliated by the occupation. Many were former Baathist officials or military officers who'd lost everything. So they organized. Those Iraqis willing to collaborate with the US were the ones most at risk. To be a mayor or city council member in Fallujah during the Occupation typically meant a death sentence. (Weston wonders how many US politicians would be willing to serve if holding office meant at least a 50-50 chance of being killed). Congreesmen visited, but rarely helped. One in particular even asked about dental care in Iraq, as if that was the key pressing isue they had. (That said, Weston notes that some politicians did seem engaged and gave a damn, but typically it was just a photo-op by a person with minimal understanding of what was going on). After all, Weston notes that only 6 senators read the WMD full report before voting to invade Iraq back in 2003. We went to Iraq, and al-Qaeda followed us in. ISIS arrived after we left. And he notes that the Taliban are stronger now than they are in 2002. ISIS has since taken Fallujah. Meanwhile, back in America, both Obama and Romney had billion-dollar presidential campaigns in 2012. Weston notes they were more fundraisers-in-chief than anything else as they control a military where people would save up a few thousand in combat pay to buy a truck. He has pleasant experiences of reuniting former soldiers with their dogs. He likes a group called Spirit of America that wanted to help spend non-military money in Afghanistan and Iraq. (One theme throughout is that Weston believes the government - and nation - looks at the problem only in military terms, and not enough in terms of soft power). For many in those countries, the US exists only as a gun or a drone - just unconstrained military power, and that was: "A mirror on America that did not reflect the values we wanted Iraqis and Afghans to see in us, as well as the rest of the world." He notes that bin Laden's personal library when he was killed included, "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers," Woodward's "Obama's Wars," the 9/11 Commission Report, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," "Secrets of the Federal Reserve," and a few other works, as well as lots of porn. When the war in Vietnam ended, the US let in over 50,000 Vietnamese refugees (over a third of them children), while this time we want to keep Afghans and Iraqis out. Weston believes that to make lasting change and win support, the US has to be willing to stay and try to win the support of the people of the country. By 2015, the US was still spending tons on military aid to Iraq, along with a much smaller amount of aid for displaced Iraqi civilians. Obama launched Operation Inherent Resolve to deal with ISIS. He believes Washington DC is guilty of a lack of introspection, as all it wants is more war. The US needs to take a damn hard close look at itself in that mirror. By the end of 2014, the US had 3,482 dead and 31,947 wounded in Iraq as well as over 2,300 dead and 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan. There really is a lot of good stuff here, but there was also a lot of personally-focused plodding that didn't do much for me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

    While serving as a State Department adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan, J. Kael Weston instigated a military mission that resulted the death of 31 service members. His memoir revisits the tragedy of war along with many other tragedies. It is a memoir, "The Mirror Test," hoping that we the readers will take a look at ourselves in the mirror of our collective actions and inactions regarding these 2 wars. Weston served seven consecutive years as a State Department adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan. He r While serving as a State Department adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan, J. Kael Weston instigated a military mission that resulted the death of 31 service members. His memoir revisits the tragedy of war along with many other tragedies. It is a memoir, "The Mirror Test," hoping that we the readers will take a look at ourselves in the mirror of our collective actions and inactions regarding these 2 wars. Weston served seven consecutive years as a State Department adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan. He received the Secretary of State's Medal for Heroism. Most of the book is written in first person, narrative style. It is a book that every American should probably read. However, it is best read in smaller digestible chunks. The last of the book focuses on the most on the author's reflections. By the time I got to that section, I was tired. Which is also its own statement on we the American public and our war fatigue. Even though tired, I am grateful to have read this book. Weston, due to his role as State Department, writes both as outside the group and from within the Marine group. The book highly favors Marines as "superior" military branch and condemns Washington's handling of both wars. This bias became a little bit overkill at the end of the book (even though I agree with his arguments against Washington). The strength of the book is in the location based sections.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    Over the past few weeks it has become unambiguously clear to me that I need to revisit military and geopolitical issues related to Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China - and perhaps other areas. It is likely that there will be new and vigorous discussions of these areas before long. The trouble in finding good books on these issues, especially military issues, is the difficulty in finding authors with the necessary perspectives. I have not had experience in combat, nor am I likely to ever have any. Over the past few weeks it has become unambiguously clear to me that I need to revisit military and geopolitical issues related to Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China - and perhaps other areas. It is likely that there will be new and vigorous discussions of these areas before long. The trouble in finding good books on these issues, especially military issues, is the difficulty in finding authors with the necessary perspectives. I have not had experience in combat, nor am I likely to ever have any. Every credible account of combat and its aftermath makes clear that it is hard to be a detached observer to appreciate it - that unless you are involved you cannot really understand the stresses and strains facing soldiers or the aftermath of battle. At the same time, however, the idea that one cannot discuss, understand, commend, or critique military action unless one is a member of the services is not defensible either. That I have not participated in hand-to-hand (or house to house) combat does not nor cannot disqualify me from thinking about how wars happen, how campaign strategies are put into action and followed up on, or how a military action fits or fails to fit with national goals, policies, or values. One can only try to be a thoughtful, discerning, and critical reader. This is helped of course by trying to find thoughtful and discerning writers to convey a story and place it in a useful and defensible context. J Kael Weston has done just that in "The Mirror Test", which is a memoir of sorts of his seven years of deployment as a US State Department representative in some of the critical battle areas of the Iraq and Afghan wars. We had significant access to and involvement with the decision makers in these wars. (This includes his own regrets for his involvement.) He was also in a central network position of sorts, that permitted him to work with US, Allied, and host militaries, as well as local government officials and civilians. He was not secluded from dangerous areas (a "fobbit") was lived among the soldiers and the people, in the midst of the wars and the danger. What was especially interesting to me was Weston's account of the various unusual activities that were not in the spotlight but were crucial to how things actually happened during his deployments - How were people paid? How were informers managed? How were political activities supported or not supported by military forces? How were the dead cared for - mortuary affairs for Afghans and Coalition forces? How was the notification of next of kin carried out when there were combat deaths? How were the dead transported home, buried, and memorialized? These are fascinating accounts. Weston grew sharply critical of the US management of these two wars (more for Iraq than Afghanistan) and does not hide his opinions. He was also deeply affected by his experiences - and after reading this, how could one not be affected? The title of the book actually takes on multiple meanings in his narrative, where it is first introduced in the context of treated severely wounded veterans past that point where they first look in the mirror after there recovery has progressed. Towards the end of the book, the meaning expands to provide a challenge for policy evaluation - can the US as a country look in the mirror at the results of its actions. The book is a very strong statement of the continuing responsibility of the country to provide care and support for those who gave so much in their military service. It is clear that he is unhappy with current levels of support. After his service ends, he becomes increasingly involved in various private efforts to remember and help veterans of these wars. He book includes a road show of sorts as he visits the different cemeteries (outside of Arlington) where the dead of the Iraq and Afghan wars are buried around the country and the different memorials that have been raised to their sacrifices. These is lots going on in this book that makes it both informative and a powerful moral statement. The style is very readable and Weston provides additional materials on his website for anyone that is interested in reading further. This is a well done and very moving book that greatly exceeded my expectations.

  18. 4 out of 5

    DD

    I'm guessing the book is a bit dated. Nothing new here for me. Cannot recommend. I'm guessing the book is a bit dated. Nothing new here for me. Cannot recommend.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    This is part enduring memoir of a State Department official on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and part polemic against what he believes were the wrong decisions he had to live with and sometimes in force. In spite of the persistence of the latter, the warmth of the former comes to the foreground. The author's positive regard for the people he meets outweighs his political distaste and makes this definitely worth reading. This is part enduring memoir of a State Department official on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and part polemic against what he believes were the wrong decisions he had to live with and sometimes in force. In spite of the persistence of the latter, the warmth of the former comes to the foreground. The author's positive regard for the people he meets outweighs his political distaste and makes this definitely worth reading.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    This isn't an easy book to read, for both it's subject matter and the writing style. I'm glad I read it, there is lots of information about these wars. The author feels that the Iraq was is the wrong war and the Afghani war is the right war. I'm not sure I agree with him on the latter. The book probably should have been edited more, but still worth it. This isn't an easy book to read, for both it's subject matter and the writing style. I'm glad I read it, there is lots of information about these wars. The author feels that the Iraq was is the wrong war and the Afghani war is the right war. I'm not sure I agree with him on the latter. The book probably should have been edited more, but still worth it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Davis

    The Mirror Test, by J. Kael Weston; Alfred A. Knopf: New York; $28.95 hardback If you read only one book about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, read this one. It will leave you with a feeling of futility. You might find perhaps a glimmer of hope somewhere, but it will be dim at best. I'm reminded of a young man I met at a barbershop recently. He said, "I remember when we ran (Fallujah). We had the place secure." A soldier, he did not understand that we were there not to 'run' Iraq, but to hand The Mirror Test, by J. Kael Weston; Alfred A. Knopf: New York; $28.95 hardback If you read only one book about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, read this one. It will leave you with a feeling of futility. You might find perhaps a glimmer of hope somewhere, but it will be dim at best. I'm reminded of a young man I met at a barbershop recently. He said, "I remember when we ran (Fallujah). We had the place secure." A soldier, he did not understand that we were there not to 'run' Iraq, but to hand it over to a new, 'democratic' government. J. Kael Weston, a former State Department official, spent over a decade in those two countries, and many of those years in Fallujah. A liaison officer, he found himself often the unwitting cause, and victim, of lies. What he came to know was that he'd become the unlikely implementer of a grand misadventure; of misguided policies played out from the White House down. Indeed, he viewed himself, and the soldiers and Marines he lived with, as practitioners and guardians of misrule which cost lives to apparently no visible end. As a liaison between the American government efforts and the local leaders, Weston came to be a true humanist trying to do right. Yet, what was right was not always clear, and what was clear was that not everyone was honest. American officials had lied to get us into Iraq, and the lies were clearly the source of grave errors and death. He laments how few Americans understand why we went to war, and now could care less. He offers tremendous praise for the US Marine Corps, with whom he worked, slept, and endured endless gunfire, bombings, and mortar barrages. With the Marines he tried to secure a future for an Iraqi government of our creation, but not of our understanding. He shows how he wended his way carefully with Iraqis, over years of trust building, only to find his efforts, and those of Marines who implemented the security for those efforts, undermined. Often, in small ways, they did well, and saved lives. They were ruined however not only by feckless bureaucrats driven by an unchained, ideological capitalism, but by duplicitous American warlords in Washington who sought power, recognition, but not justice. The chapter on the visits by CODEL's, the dreaded Congressional Delegations, which sought photo-ops for the most part, and mindless promotion at worst, is perhaps the most entertaining, until you realize human lives were at stake. (One Congressman wondered why dental costs among the troops were so high. The response of the combat hardened Marine Commander is unforgettable!). You'll read how money became a commodity which was used to buy allies, buy phony publicity for the home front, and serve a host of lies tendered to the American people. Good people emerge. They are American Marines, who despite almost minimum support stand ready to die for their country. Weston makes visits to the final resting places of many of these...for they are the legacy of this war for us. We find good and peace loving Arabs and Kurds, each trying his best to do right, often betrayed for immediate benefits. The utterly unnecessary death of a grand Mufti, who was a peaceful, good man, seeking justice for his people, will leave the reader in tears. We find how Taliban adversaries are defeated. It is not always with bullets. We learn also how they are created, by many of our misguided efforts. Weston shows how our arrogance of power is driven by unwarranted, unbelievably myopic American pride. How the coin to pay for this is in American soldiers', and countless Iraqi, mangled and dead bodies. You'll find yourself wondering how we got into this, and how we can avoid this again. If you are older, you'll know you just read the modern version of our 1950's "The Ugly American". We've learned little since that time. Weston's is indeed a great, heart rending, powerful book you won't forget. You especially won't forget why it is called the mirror test. It refers to a terrible, often repeated event, but as a metaphor for this war it is an insight of tremendous value. Read this work to learn what a mirror test for a man, and for a nation is.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Catalano

    The Mirror Test offers a "fly on the wall/fly buzzing around the RPGs" view of America's two longest wars, the War in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, from the author J. Kael Weston, who served in the United States State Department as a field operative in both Iraq (Anbar Province, Fallujah) and Afghanistan. Weston does not hide his opinion that the War in Afghanistan, justified, suffered from lack of attention from the American policymakers and public and, therefore, strategic miscalcul The Mirror Test offers a "fly on the wall/fly buzzing around the RPGs" view of America's two longest wars, the War in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, from the author J. Kael Weston, who served in the United States State Department as a field operative in both Iraq (Anbar Province, Fallujah) and Afghanistan. Weston does not hide his opinion that the War in Afghanistan, justified, suffered from lack of attention from the American policymakers and public and, therefore, strategic miscalculations causing the war to drag on. Furthermore, Weston struggles with his assignment supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, a conflict he find unjustified and grossly mismanaged. Weston's accounts draw heavily from personal experiences and friendships made. Weston shows the vulnerable humanity of American soldiers (in particular Marines) and Afghani and Iraqi collaborators. Furthermore, he describes the tragedy of war and the toll taken on soldiers, collaborators, families, friends, and, without fail, on Weston himself. Weston goes to great lengths to offer historical details of events while honoring the memories of the fallen by telling their individual stories and reciting the names of collaborators and servicemembers KIA. The book's title the Mirror Test comes from a battlefield revelation, when a soldier, wounded in action, sees his/her new (sometimes unrecognizable) appearance in the mirror. Weston carries this analogy beyond what one sees physically in the mirror; he sheds reflections on unseen wounds, mental, emotional, internal, and on families/friends. He calls an entire nation, the United States of America, its policymakers who started these wars and a public, once impassioned now ambivalent, to turn toward the mirror, gain an image of the situation, and begin a course of healing our many wounds. Recommended

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Too often in the discourse of American Foreign Policy does the "typical American" choose the stance that it's our government against it's people. There are very few today that don't have connection to at least one KIA or WIA in the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars. I myself attended two memorials to former football players - Marines - while I was in high school, and worked with several veterans. But J. Kael Weston steps beyond the what we might assume to be the robotic rhetoric of a State Department employ Too often in the discourse of American Foreign Policy does the "typical American" choose the stance that it's our government against it's people. There are very few today that don't have connection to at least one KIA or WIA in the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars. I myself attended two memorials to former football players - Marines - while I was in high school, and worked with several veterans. But J. Kael Weston steps beyond the what we might assume to be the robotic rhetoric of a State Department employee. Instead, we find an author that has many of the same feelings of civilians; that the war in Iraq was wrong - Weston's "Wrong War"- and that the war in Afghanistan was just - Weston's "Right War." Decisions in combat wear on Weston, and there is a noticeable change in tone regarding his first cork-screw into Iraq and while he keeps in touch with Marines - General Nicholson, specifically - about his place in the Khost province. If anything, Weston points out that the disconnect felt between stateside civilians and our elected "leaders" is felt just as much by those wearing camouflage in "the sandbox." Kids - and Weston emphases this more than a few times - killed on both sides, and that they bloodshed continues even after we've "left." This book is an important book, and is void of any rah-rah bullshit that might come with reading an author that spent a large amount of time on the battlefields of the Middle East. It's a book that would be just as important to read when it was released as it is now with foreign focus still on places like Syria and Iran - two countries where American boots might once again be marching, killing, and dying.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Cook

    A very hard hitting account of a State Dept official sent to the roughest parts of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2013, for SEVEN years to guide the troops, advise the generals and aid the Iraqis, whose country we destroyed, in organizing and rebuilding efforts. I never thought I'd want to read about that war, but felt so strongly that it was a wrong war, started politically, that I wanted more information. And I certainly got it. The writer is an unusually conscientious, ethical, dedicated and altruis A very hard hitting account of a State Dept official sent to the roughest parts of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2013, for SEVEN years to guide the troops, advise the generals and aid the Iraqis, whose country we destroyed, in organizing and rebuilding efforts. I never thought I'd want to read about that war, but felt so strongly that it was a wrong war, started politically, that I wanted more information. And I certainly got it. The writer is an unusually conscientious, ethical, dedicated and altruistic man, who took on all the hard jobs. It's a brutal, wrenching account, powerfully and painfully written. Truth is not for the timid. but it draws some miraculous human traits from it's heroes, who rise in spite of the disappointingly foolish and deadly decisions some of our leaders have and continue to make. If wisdom ruled, war would have no place in this world. Inasmuch as it doesn't, it causes us to reflect on our responsibility to rise up against any consideration of it and resist the seedlings of self serving policies... and most of all, to help the victims heal from it. I recommend this sobering book highly!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Sanders

    Fantastic read This book offers a firsthand, unflinching view of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a way most of the general public hasn't experienced. More importantly, it focuses on individuals on both sides and the kind of empathy and cooperation that goes much farther in these types of conflicts than bombs and bullets. Fantastic read This book offers a firsthand, unflinching view of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a way most of the general public hasn't experienced. More importantly, it focuses on individuals on both sides and the kind of empathy and cooperation that goes much farther in these types of conflicts than bombs and bullets.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    A must-read for any veteran. The years Kael Weston committed to his nation in combat and the love and relationships he developed with Marines, Soldiers, and locals he worked with is a story worth your time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Boyle

    A moving and emotional portrait of the Iraq war from the perspective a State Department employee. While incredibly insightful it is a grueling slog and would have benefitted from some more organization and editing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    He writes like a jarhead, but at least he was there. Reading the paid reviewer, I'm not sure what is "deep" or "unflinching" about The Mirror Test. On the plus side, those are adjectives people use to describe books. He writes like a jarhead, but at least he was there. Reading the paid reviewer, I'm not sure what is "deep" or "unflinching" about The Mirror Test. On the plus side, those are adjectives people use to describe books.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tom Peterson

    Everyone, everyone should read this

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Zammit

    Fantastic read when the author isn't up his own ass. Fantastic read when the author isn't up his own ass.

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