By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Michael Pitre
Narration by: Kevin T. Collins, Nick Sullivan, Jay Snyder, Fajer Al-Kaisi
The simple part of combat is having friends and enemies; the hard part is in knowing the difference. “Fives and Twenty Fives” shows the simplicity and complexity of all wars. Any veteran of the American military knows that part of basic training is building a team of soldiers to form a comradeship as strong as civilian friendship. But, there is a difference; i.e. the difference between civilian and military friendship is the underlying command and control requirements of military organizations. The author of “Fives and Twenty Fives” is an ex-Marine. His novel is about friendship; i.e. more fundamentally about friendship on both sides of a war.
The theater of war in Michael Pitre’s novel is Iraq. Unlike a Civil War, within a country of one language, the war in Iraq requires “terps” or translators. Most interpreters are in-country natives and have not gone through conventional military basic training. Command and control is learned by most of these interpreters “on the fly”. Friendship is earned by experience rather than training. Pitre introduces Dodge, the Iraqi interpreter, for a Marine team led by Lieutenant Donovan.
Dodge introduces an underlying theme of “Fives and Twenty Fives” in a conversation with Lieutenant Donovan. Dodge explains that he has no friends because when one chooses friends, the choice entails responsibility and accountability. Dodge is a Sunni, the religious faction associated with Saddam Hussein. He speaks fluent English and studies Huckleberry Finn, a book he carries with him everywhere, to better understand American culture. There are several allusions to the story of Huckleberry Finn that reinforce the theme of friendship; i.e. its implied responsibility and accountability.
Dodge’s father led the Ministry of Agriculture for Saddam Hussein. His father became a leader of the resistance after America invaded Iraq. Dodge loves his father but chooses to stay at an Iraqi university rather than follow him into the resistance. It is not exactly clear, but Dodge seems to have chosen, by circumstance of war, to support freedom by making friends with a platoon medic that is singularly focused on saving lives. When one of the platoon soldiers is ambushed, Dodge’s medic-friend is restrained by the Lieutenant because he believes the wounded soldier is dead.
After the restraint-incident, the medic turns to drug addiction to escape the reality of his friend’s death.
The medic is brought up on charges when the Lieutenant reports him for suspected drug use. He receives a general discharge which affects his future civilian life. The Lieutenant chooses not to be the medic’s friend in the circumstance of war but meets the medic after the war with a different perspective; maybe not as friends, but as fellow human beings intimately affected by war.
Later in the story, a reader listener finds Dodge chooses to become a part of a resistance to the repressive regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia. Dodge becomes friends with the resistance movement that needs his English-speaking voice to tell the world of Ben Ali’s repression. Dodge is not a Tunisian but recognizes the human drive to resist oppression, and the need to be part of something greater than oneself. Dodge chooses to be a friend of the oppressed.
Michael Pitre compels a listener to look at mistakes made by America in Iraq. It may have been morally right to remove Saddam Hussein. However, the decision to deny participation by Hussein’s army officers and administrative personnel in a government transition was an error of epic consequence. Vetted Hussein army officers and administrative personnel, with monitored performance measurement, might have avoided Iraq’s spiral into chaos.
There are good and bad people in every government. Undoubtedly, there were some Iraqi Army leaders and Hussein administrators that could have become friends rather than enemies of fellow Iraqis and Americans. If America’s leaders had been more discriminating and understanding, ISIS may never have risen. The simple part of any war is having friends and enemies; the hard part is in knowing the difference.