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Book Review - Marines in the Garden of Eden : The Battle for An Nasiriyah by Richard Lowry


Marines in the Garden of Eden : The Battle for An Nasiriyah
by Richard S. Lowry

List Price: $24.95  Hardback: 448 Pages
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
Publish Date: June 6, 2006

Review by Brian Grafton.

Richard Lowry's Marines in the Garden of Eden is the story of the creation, deployment and initial commitment of USMC Task Force Tarawa in the coalition invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003. TF Tarawa's story is framed by the "ambush" of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, and of the capture and subsequent rescue of Jessica Lynch – arguably the most famous PoW of the assault on Iraq. Task Force Tarawa entered Iraq with what might have been a simple mission: secure a path on the east side of the city of An Nasiriyah which would allow other Marine groups to close on Baghdad from East of the Euphrates. Without the complications arising from the Iraqi assault on 507th Maintenance Company, which became lost and strayed into Iraqi-controlled territory, the week-long battle for An Nasiriyah may never have taken place.

Lowry's book is, in truth, more a chronicle than a history; it is concerned with military mobilization and deployment, not with geo-political complexities and assessments. Lowry has worked hard to follow the chronology of the seven days his story covers. For the most part, he has done this well, conveying the intensity and complexity of battle very effectively. Marines in the Garden of Eden gives a fine sense of the nature of combat, seen from various perspectives in the field, during the seven-day battle for An Nasiriyah.

For the general reader, I would have been happier to see time markers included with each sub-head in the book: given the number of groups Mr Lowry is dealing with, time sequences would have helped understand the relationship between various complex military actions being described. Lowry attempts to provide time indicators in his narrative, but this is not always possible; as a result, there are one or two places where (for this reader, at least) the sequence of events becomes hazy. An editorial decision to provide a time frame outside the narrative would have provided an additional level of clarity.

The book will not please all readers. From his very first sentence, Lowry makes it clear that this is a book in praise of the US Marine Corps. This becomes clear as the reader follows the story: there are no negative comments about any doctrine, action or decision made by Marines; there are no bad officers or cowardly men. Were this handled more subtly, there would be no problem: the USMC has a proud and honorable history, with battle honors stretching back centuries. Nevertheless, some readers will find Marines in the Garden of Eden less a description than a testament – more John Wayne than Chesty Puller. I expect that some will find the bias too irritating and pervasive, and will worry that the bias undermines the tale Lowry tells.

The tale is, of course, Lowry's strength. He was given access to massive amounts of information, and has used that to generate a rich tapestry. Once or twice the wealth of data overwhelms him: he offers details which lead nowhere, simply because the detail is available. For the most part, however, Lowry does a fine job of making a series of chaotic events both vivid and intelligible.

His battle narrative might have been conveyed more effectively had the text contained even more maps than the rather high number already embedded. There are points where the location and movement of US forces come as a shock, particularly when the rescue of Jessica Lynch unfolds. Additional maps may have made such moments easier for the reader. But this is a minor detail in the larger narrative Richard Lowry offers.

Review by Brian Grafton (bg@briangrafton.com).

 

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.

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