A boy and his dog, surviving war in Iraq
November 9, 2006
“From Baghdad, With Love” offers a powerful look into the realities of war. This is a true story for everyone, whether you support the war in Iraq or not.
One of the most unforgettable war stories I’ve read since “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, this book is honest and heartfelt. Like O’Brien’s glimpse into the Vietnam War, “From Baghdad, With Love” probes beneath the surface of war, how it can destroy innocence and compassion, or foster it. Tim O’Brien said, “Being in the midst of so much of evil makes you want to be good,” which is exactly what happens to Lt. Jay Kopelman.”From Baghdad, With Love” explores the human heart and puts faces on a distant war. Kopelman, the author and protagonist, is a tough-guy Marine on his third tour of duty who finds life, hope, and compassion in a place otherwise filled with anger, terror and death. Kopelman is a soldier and not a writer, which comes across in this diary-style book. His language and writing style are simple and uncontrived, portraying real people and raw emotions.While invading Fallujah, one of Iraq’s most violent battlegrounds, a group of war-hardened Marines known as the “Lava Dogs” find a helpless puppy and make it their mission to keep it alive. As Kopelman struggles to train Iraqi soldiers, he also tries to tame this wild, flea-ridden refugee, and in the process learns patience and sympathy. His struggle to keep the puppy alive and ship him back to the States melds with his desire to find sanity anyplace he can – and a puppy seems as likely a choice as any.On this unlikely mission, Kopelman nevertheless applies his military training and determination. “I really like what I am – a Marine. I like being strong. I like being brave. I like going in first. I want to go in first, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone shoot my puppy.”Kopelman enlists the help of many others – Iams Pet Food, a California animal shelter, a firm that trains bomb-sniffing dogs, among others – to protect Lava and eventually take him home to San Diego. Injured soldiers and National Public Radio journalists hide the animal at different points. Lava even befriends an Iraqi housekeeper, who manages to find chew toys and a collar for Lava – despite an Iraqi aversion to canines. At one point Kopelman drives the puppy to the border, but is turned back. Finally he attempts a real-life canine escape from Iraq by coordinating with many others, near and far.
In the end, this is a conflict between the realities of war and the needs of the human heart. Kopelman may be on active duty, but he can’t suppress his natural affection and humanity. “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.”Kopelman struggles to rescue Lava, but ultimately Lava saves him. When asked, “Why wasn’t my time spent helping people instead of a puppy?” Kopelman responds, “I don’t know and I don’t care, but at least I saved something.”