This year, in addition to its annual “all county read” book, my library system also selected a book in honor of Veteran’s Day, with lots of related events planned. Since I participate in my library’s noon book group when I can, I read Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft. Everyone in the book discussion agreed it was a fascinating memoir about the author’s time in Iraq.
Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft is a psychologist who spent nine years working for the US Navy. In January 2004, she was deployed to Iraq to serve as part of the medical support team for a group of Marines stationed there. She was given only 11 days’ notice, and her twins were just fifteen months old at the time. This memoir follows her experiences in Iraq – the good, the bad, and the ugly – while counseling soldiers enduring unspeakable horrors and trying to maintain her own sanity.
The book’s title refers to a line from M*A*S*H (which taught most of us all we know of a wartime medical group): “There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can’t change rule number one.” In her experiences in Iraq, Kraft found that many people – fellow medical personnel as well as soldiers – struggled to accept these basic rules of war. At the same time, she herself was also struggling to compartmentalize the part of her that was a wife and mother.
She writes in a very direct and honest way, though she doesn’t dwell too much on any single case (other than one soldier’s death that especially haunts her). Many of her experiences were things I had never even considered about war, like the isolating role of the soldiers assigned to prepare the dead for transportation home or the difficulty of hearing about problems at home during her very brief turns at the computer. I found it particularly interesting to hear her perspective as a woman, since so many wartime memoirs are written by men.
Overall, it is a captivating memoir that shines a light on something that most of us probably never think about (and something that we may purposely try not to think about, if we are honest). I felt enlightened as to the possible experiences of my nephew who served in Iraq in the Marines’ Special Forces. It was certainly a very appropriate book to read near Veteran’s Day, to remember the sacrifice that so many Americans have made, whether you agree with the reasons for the wars or not.