Book Review: The Hooligans of Kandahar by Joseph Kassabian

Every war that America has been in has seen its share of post-war soldier memoirs, The Hooligans of Kandahar is one of the better ones to come out of America’s most recent war. Specifically, this semi-fictionalized account chronicles one infantry squad’s (typically 8-12 men) deployment to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 2011-2012.

The author, in an effort to secure the anonymity of his comrades has chosen to make the book semi-fictional and use nicknames instead of given names for the characters throughout. This was probably a smart idea as any current or former combat arms soldier can tell you that some serious crazy stuff goes on in any tight unit whether in peacetime training or while deployed although the craziness gets more intense in a war zone.

I will admit that I was initially reluctant to read and review this book when first contacted by the author for fear of what would be in it. I worried that even 12 years after I came out of the sandbox the events would mirror my own too much and bring back things I had deservedly forgotten. That was not the case however. While many of the events in the book were eerily similar to things I saw, did, and heard reading them through the eyes of another was actually entertaining and cathartic.

The book is very well written and the first person presentation is excellent. This is not a chronological description of the daily drudgery of a warzone (yes, even waiting to be killed can be amazingly boring), but a description of the signature events of one unit’s 12 months in Afghanistan. Think of it as a highlight reel of the events that stay in the memory sharply. It is at times alarming and funny but always engrossing.

It is the very craziness of the events related in the book that will make non-veteran readers question the authenticity of the book. This is especially true given the media’s tendency to portray service members as either heroes or villains with little in between in the current crop of national wars. The book rings true to me as a combat arms Iraq veteran myself. In fact, I would guess that some of more outrageous episodes have either been entirely left out of the book or toned down, especially if some of the people in the book are still serving. Any commander worth his salt knows that craziness happens and a really good one tolerates and even encourages it as long as such hijinks do not endanger the mission.

If this book is not the Chickenhawk of Afghanistan, it should be. It lifts the veil on what service in a typical combat unit is like in america’s current wars. That service can be characterized as can much of military service throughout history; 99% mind-numbing boredom punctuated by instants of sheer terror. If you want to know what contemporary war is like for the average combat soldier this is the book to read. I highly recommend this entertaining and information book.