Book Review: Jason Whiteley's 'Father of Money'
Posted by Jim Drury on September 21
Jason Whiteley. Father of Money: Buying Peace in Baghdad. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011. 191 pages.
Part memoir and part military history, Jason Whiteley’s Father of Money is more of a Heart of Darkness-tale of personal introspection than a full, comprehensive description of the American occupation of Iraq. And while the author deftly describes his experiences in the Al Dora district of Baghdad from 2004 to early 2005, the book is most valuable for its disturbing revelations of how unprepared the United States Army was for the job entrusted to it. The American Armed Forces completed their mission in a matter of weeks when they destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was a complete and unequivocal success, traditionally speaking. Unfortunately, the Iraq War is inherently untraditional. For Whiteley, the problem lay not in the Army’s execution, which was top notch, but in the mission after the mission. As governance officer of Al Dora, Whiteley is at the tip of the spear in the Army’s second battle, which is rebuilding Iraq. His position in Baghdad allows him to explain the confusing struggle between Shi’ites, Sunnis and Americans with considerable authority.
To have a U.S. Army Captain with no experience in Iraqi culture or linguists negotiate with the most powerful Iraqis in the area shows a certain disregard on the part of American strategic planners. Despite his complete lack of qualification and preparedness—he was part of an armored division when he was deployed—Whiteley hits the ground running. He is enthusiastic, dedicated and innovative in his solutions. He is almost too innovative, in fact. He comes dangerously close to censure after he helps local Iraqis tap into the lucrative black market for scrap metal. Whiteley wryly caricatures himself as Baghdad’s Tony Soprano.
The writing is good throughout, indeed sometimes very good, and the audience benefits from a narrative that gradually inducts the reader into Iraqi society alongside a naïve Captain Whiteley. The difference, however, is that while both Whiteley and his audience are initially startled by the rough manner in which U.S. soldiers deal with Iraqis, only the audience remains uncomfortable with this treatment by the end of the work. It remains unanswered whether such tough love is appropriate, and Whiteley does not condemn his own behavior so much as observe it. He is, however, the first to admit that he strayed from his moral compass on the road to win the war.
His candid description of the reality on the ground is another valuable component of his book. For the most part, this is not a tale of combat but of steady, indirect attrition, witnessed the morning after in the dim outline of a body on the curb. The greatest tragedy in the drama of Father of Money is the bleak outlook of the Iraqi people, plagued by poverty and listlessness, literally ankle-deep in sewage. The reader witnesses an Iraqi society ravaged by war, but the devastation does not necessarily vindicate Whiteley’s assertion that the Iraqis were better off with Saddam Hussein.
It is only at the end of the book that the action picks up. Whiteley’s company is ambushed, a buddy is killed and an enormous church is leveled in an equally enormous explosion. The audience is excited, fascinated and intrigued. They have read 175 pages for this moment. Things fall apart, all of his contacts have been killed or scared away and the U.S.-led Iraqi police and militia evaporate into the night. And then—the book ends. The U.S. does not rally, the ‘good guys’ do not persevere. Captain Whiteley leaves Iraq with his unit and decides to leave the Army. The audience will inevitably feel that the most valuable lessons of the war have been lost in translation.
Captain Whiteley’s book endows the reader with a sense of what the Iraq War was like and what could have been, from a unique and interesting angle. Father of Money makes a substantial contribution to an obscure subject—state building from the eyes of a soldier—but it is by no means a definitive answer to how the war has become such a perplexing experience for so many Americans. In his defense, Whiteley never set out to do any such thing. He merely sought to tell his story as it actually happened, and in this he has succeeded admirably. In the lidless eyes of history, that is all that matters.
(Note: Jason Whiteley is a Member Veteran of IAVA)
Jim Drury works in the Communications Department at IAVA headquarters in New York City. He recently received a Master of Arts in Modern European History from Providence College.
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