Kirk W. Johnson’s TO BE A FRIEND IS FATAL is a heartbreaking reminder of the wreckage we’ve left behind in Iraq. And it is unafraid to ask some of the most essential questions regarding our involvement there: Are we who we say we are? And if we are, why haven’t we kept our word? I urge everyone to read it.
Author of The Yellow Birds
“Part memoir, part impassioned plea, Johnson’s book traces his experiences in Iraq, his personal breakdown, and his struggle to rescue the legions of young, idealistic Iraqis left behind by US administrations plagued by post-9/11 paranoia and gridlock. Because militants continue to kill such people despite the US withdrawal, it is difficult to imagine a book more urgent than this.”
“From the ruins of the war in Iraq and his own broken body, Kirk Johnson made it his cause to redeem the one American promise to Iraqis that honor required us to keep. He tirelessly fought the political resistance and bureaucratic indifference of two administrations. His account is riveting, darkly funny, heroic, and shaming.”
Author of The Assassins’ Gate and The Unwinding
“What is so intriguing about this beautifully written book is that while it is a scathing critique of America’s policy toward Iraq, it is not one of your usual policy books. To Be a Friend is Fatal is a deeply personal and poignant story about how one young American’s passion and curiosity lead him to a distant and troubled land, where his empathy and sense of justice prevent him from giving up on the people abandoned by the U.S. government.”
New York Times-bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
“Kirk Johnson is one of the few genuine heroes of America’s war in Iraq… Johnson’s story is about America’s shame, and also its honor. This is an essential book.”
New Yorker staff writer and author of The Forever War
“I have long been an admirer of Kirk Johnson–for his humanitarian advocacy on behalf of forgotten Iraqis and for his honest and poetic writing… His is a story that arcs from charity to futility to pain to charity again, and how much he needs to tell it equals how much it deserves to be read.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Good Soldiers
“[A] truly incredible story.”
Host of This American Life
Johnson’s book…combines memoir, his own tough journey in the war and after, with an account that movingly chronicles numerous Iraqi interpreters who were abandoned as U.S. troops departed. Few other post-9/11 books give voice to Iraqis, who paid the highest price in our unnecessary, elective war. This is a credit to Johnson’s close relationships with them and his persistence in recording their stories.
The well-written book—the author is an honest, engaging and indomitable guide—warrants a special place in nonfiction shelves. He captures the tragicomedy of Iraq better than anyone else’s chronicle I have read so far (and I’ve read a lot). To Be a Friend is Fatal is exacting writing of conscience and accountability—personal on his part more than national, alas—that deserves wide readership. Its themes will resonate as rumors of more war in Syria gain momentum in Washington.
–John Kael Weston