I just finished reading my advanced copy of “Code Name: Johnny Walker.” Before I write more, I’d like to include two caveats. 1. I know Johnny Walker personally. This fact is important because, I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. Also during my decade long friendship with Johnny, I have heard many of his tails from him or other friends of his. 2. I served for years in Iraq. This exposure to Iraq’s conflict zone warps my perception. I will try to write from an outsider’s point of view, but I am confident, I am going to fail at that. Since I am not sure how to be unbiased, I am not going to worry about it.
The book, “Code Name: Johnny Walker” for me is an essential book for anyone that desires to better understand Iraq. “Hurt Locker” was fiction…this book is real. You as the reader will have no option but to be gripped by Johnny’s tales. The book has so much weight; I was reluctant to flash it in a few hours. Yet, I read it in two short readings.
Jim DeFelice’s work deserves more attention in my review. He will not receive enough credit for what he has done. If you know Jim’s work, you already know his gift as an author is a gift to us all. If you know Johnny, you’ll be amazed at Jim’s work in helping write a coherent story out of the mosaic that is Johnny’s life; while not overwriting. It is an incredible skill to co-author a story with a native English speaking partner. I cannot imagine the challenges Jim worked through to help Johnny write such an incredible book. I should spend more time on Jim’s work. I’ll ask that you, dear reader, will appreciate that I’ll simply say, “Thank you Jim.”
Johnny’s story is of a native and proud Iraqi man. How he grew up, how he learned, loved and survived. His reflections are something we rarely if ever get to see. Immediately after reading it, I wanted to go back through, chapter by chapter and re-read the entire book. I want to sit down with my friend and have 1000 conversations with him about everything.
In one book, he lets the reader better understand pre-war Iraq and its challenges. He has illustrated what we put our “partners” through and what they experience when we go abroad, “to help.” He provides insights into what was, yet wasn’t, sectarian violence in Iraq. He captures what is like for US service members who go “outside the wire.” He tells his love story in such a way that I constantly felt his family’s touch and pain. He reveals the side of Iraq’s recent history that no US news network was able/willing to reveal. In all honestly, Johnny’s story is too graphic to be told on the news. This story needs time and distance and the safety of paper to be digestible. To highlight this, take a look at the pictures they include in the book. This book is so dangerous, he’s the only person who’s not redacted. Incredible.
I have worked in Iraq for years. I’ve been on 100’s of missions. I’ve spoken with 1000’s of Iraqis. Like Johnny, I’ve been in places where I was out 2 and 3 times in one day. He has served in Iraq more than anyone else I know. Our experience allows me to say that he has captured more comprehensively than anyone else the total picture of modern war.
One aspect that I think is well illustrated is the total confusion of doing this type of work. He notes the guess work, the innuendo, the unknowable and the mistakes. Combat is not a linear thing. The more we apply Western methods and analysis the more we confuse things. Johnny gets this, he knows and it’s a giant part of what he went through. I cannot express how valuable he was to US service members. How many lives he’s saved?
His savagery, will likely net him some negative criticism. To these critics I say, “Walk in his shoes.” We have the luxury of stability and safety. None of us has been hunted, or had to hunt other humans. His tale is real. It’s unbelievable. His sacrifice his family’s costs are unbearable. Yet, here he is, writing what will surely be the best book I’ll read in 2014. There is another book in Johnny, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.