Port: North Dakota medal of honor winner gives us one hell of a story

MINOT -- War tends to inspire a great deal of art. These days, most art about war takes the shape of books and movies, and most of these are forgettable because they fall into one of two categories.The first are the negative narratives. Those whi...

Rob Port

MINOT -- War tends to inspire a great deal of art.
These days, most art about war takes the shape of books and movies, and most of these are forgettable because they fall into one of two categories.
The first are the negative narratives. Those which portray war as inherently pointless and those who fight wars as paranoid sociopaths and/or damaged victims. These are typically created during or immediately after the war in question. They often pander to contemporaneous political viewpoints. Mostly they’re quickly forgotten.
The other category are the hagiographies, which knock the rough and inconvenient edges off reality to portray America’s wars as invariably just and noble and the soldiers fighting them as something akin to superheroes.
These tend to have all the intellectual rigor of a comic book.
But occasionally war will inspire a something which rises above these shallow tropes. Something which captures both the splendor and the horror, the bravery and the banality, of an experience most of us will never have.
I would put Clinton Romesha’s new book “Red Platoon” in this last category.
Romesha was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2013 for his actions at Camp Keating during the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan. He has lived in Minot with his family since leaving the military in 2011.
His book, which you’ve probably seen him promoting in the national media, is about the fight which earned him the military’s highest honor. It’s about courage. It’s about failure. It’s about the weapons and tactics of America’s modern military machine.
But mostly it’s about the wonderful, flawed, courageous men who fight our wars for us.
Importantly, it is a gripping read. Something that will have you gasping as you hold your breath rooting for Romesha and his comrades to prevail.
More importantly, it is something which rises to the level of literature in its portrayal of a battle most Americans probably know nothing about, as a part of a war our country still seems to be struggling to understand.
Romesha doesn’t set out to lecture us about the niceties of the war in Afghanistan as it pertains to American foreign policy. He has no agenda in that regard at all.
“Language is an imperfect tool,” he writes in the notes at the conclusion of the book, “and anyone who has been through combat understands that words are incapable of conveying the real horror of battle. This is why the deepest truths of war can never be spoken, only understood, by men who have touched it and been touched by it.”
“In the absence of anything better,” he continues, “we tell one another stories, and we do so with the knowledge that while our stories may not be perfect, they are the closest we will ever come to transmitting a sense, and preserving the memory, of what we endured.”
Romesha tells us one hell of a story, and we’re all the better for it.
Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.

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