All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq by Steve Eubanks
MY RATING: 5/5 Stars
FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from GoodReads Giveaways Program (in exchange for an honest review)
REVIEW: Steve Eubanks, changed how I viewed sports history and America’s war in the Middle East with his book “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army/Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq“. He established himself as a highly-credible sports writer, former college golf player and PGA member. The first post-9/11 Army versus Navy football game became his focal point for introducing the reader to this biography of two incredibly brave men sent to fight in “War on Terror.” “It was the recent terrorist attacks on American soil that made this particular event the most watched college football game in the country. Four million American television sets tuned in early that Saturday afternoon, with another four million sets tuned in overseas” (xi). Additionally, “President George W. Bush had spoken in both locker rooms before the game: ‘Your opponents today on the football field will be the men you will be serving beside on the battlefield very soon,’ he said” (xiv).
This post-9/11 environment super-charged the football fans as well, showing a renewed and more intense patriotism that perhaps had not been demonstrated by the public masses since “Lake Placid, New York, at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, when the U.S. hockey team upset the heavily favored Soviets, the game known as the ‘miracle on ice’” (46). I remembered that game…that moment, that physically-expressive surge of patriotism demonstrated by my family and me when I was a little girl. I remembered jumping up and down at the winning goal. Mr. Eubank’s analogy resonated with me and made my heart soar again; this historical comparison existed as one of several examples utilized by the author to connect on a deeper level with the reader and reach a much wider audience.
Emotions continued to “run high” as young men gave their hearts and all of their energies in devoting themselves to their military training in preparation for combat operations. Some training focused on leadership roles that mandated impeccable reputations. The author delved into the rigors of Army Ranger training and how easily a bad person can run someone’s life and/or career with a false allegation. Nobody cared about a person’s innocence. The author labelled this scenario as “availability bias”: favoring what was simply available without any regard for safety and other mitigating (and eventually, litigating) factors to resolve a problem.
The unfortunate realities of war existed as another problem that had basis in availability and/or bias: killing children and loss of our own children. One character identified the age at which Iraqi children had been brain-washed to dislike American soldiers. This served as an important piece of information for adults, especially Americans, to help understand the brutal cruelties of war and why there existed occasions when adolescents and teenagers experienced targeted death with their adult relatives. Mr. Eubanks explained such situations in a manner that made them somewhat more digestible for the American moral consciousness. Essentially, we did not have to like the situation; but, it was an unfortunate reality that we had to force ourselves to understand. War played by a different set of rules than American football, Olympic hockey, and/or any other sport…because its subsistence equated to more than that of a comparatively simple game.
Another tragedy of war came in the grown-up, deadly form of the game “Hide and Seek.” Unfortunately, many Americans moved in the open and without sufficient protection (and, seemingly) without strategically-planned safe transit times and/or routes. The story of Jerko “Jerry” Zovko, and others, who died in an ambush, detailed an example of such failures. “On March 31, 2004, four private security agents working for Blackwater were guarding a food convoy when they were attacked by insurgents in downtown Fallujah. Zovko was killed by machine gun fire and then dragged through the streets by a mob” (165). When I read this story, I instantly thought of the interview with Zovko’s mother, in the film “Iraq for Sale”. Mr. Eubanks and the film highlighted the games played by our enemies as well as with American families when our personnel became injured or happened to be killed. Re-watching the film created a multi-faceted supplement to this book. The movie provided additional context and re-enforced the lives sacrificed by the characters and their families in this biography.
If you do not like football, I encourage you to look past that opinion and focus on what this book is really about: Americans battling each other on the sports field, one of them being attacked by a domestic enemy and additionally by his professional associates due to availability bias, leading into the story of both guys, and many other Americans, sacrificing their lives in the Middle East…fighting the “War on Terror.” “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army/Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq” revealed itself as an emotionally-rich, content-heavy, compassionately-written biography that leveraged the author’s expert-level, sports history writing skills, with football as its delivery vehicle for a heart-felt war story based in the Middle East.