Rule Number Two is a memoir about Dr. Heidi Kraft’s experiences as a Navy psychologist in Iraq, where she worked in a combat hospital. It’s one of a stack of books I picked up because I am trying to read as much of the literature coming out of the war as possible. One, because I think it’s interesting to read accounts of the war from the people involved in it, and two, because I think that some of the world’s greatest literature has come from war, so if I can get a jumpstart on a new classic, I think that’s pretty exciting.
My earlier post talked about how my response to the book was “meh,” and I think I am going to have to stick with that response, sadly. This strikes me as a “you had to be there” sort of book, especially since the praise on the back is all from people in the military. I think that because I haven’t been in Iraq and I don’t know what it’s like, it was hard to connect with this book, although I haven’t had this problem with a lot of other books from the war. I also think that the book was clouded by her experiences as a parent; when she was deployed, she had very young twins, and this was a pretty big theme in the book. Which I understand. I cannot imagine being a parent and being told that I would have to spend seven months away from my young children, and I imagine that this was very intense for Dr. Kraft, but it just wasn’t very interesting to me.
The book also has a strange format which I didn’t really like. Basically, there were chapters about her time in Iraq which talked about cases in the combat hospital (names and details obscured, obviously), and then there were “home” chapters in which she whined about not being able to say her children. No, whined isn’t really the right word. Bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t see her children. And I didn’t like those chapters very much because they weren’t interesting to me and I thought they were kind of emotionally manipulative, so I started just skipping over them, and that caused me to enjoy the book a lot more.
The sections on her time in Iraq were really interesting. As a psychologist, she was deployed to look after the emotional well being of the troops, but it sounds like she also provided some medical care, too, although I am a bit shaky on this so don’t quote me. The hospital environment which she describes is chaotic, crowded, hard to keep clean, and extremely stressful, and one of the things she talked about was her own emotional stress, which was, as you can imagine, pretty severe. I suspect that working in a combat hospital is quite intense, because you never know exactly when more casualties are coming in, or what they will look like. And you have to deal with seriously injured and dying people, which sucks.
The inspiration for the title of the book came from a line in M*A*S*H: “There are two rules in war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can’t change rule number one.” She pointed out that given better body armor and medical technology, rule number one is more like “war damages people.” I think she’s right, and I wish she had expanded upon that insight a little more. Some of the cases and scenarios she described were really interesting. The war is causing a lot of medically intriguing injuries, and she touched on that issue briefly, but not as deeply as I would have liked.
She also wrote briefly about her return to the States, and what that was like. She pointed out that because she wasn’t deployed as part of a unit, she returned to the States alone, and that posed its own challenges. I am inclined to agree that units should be kept together on their return to help them decompress as a collective; I think that soldiers who return on their own probably have a harder time.
My other primary problem with this book was simply that it just wasn’t very well written or edited. Dr. Kraft is a psychologist, not a writer, and the writing was stiff and stilted, with occasional moments of brilliance shining through it. The chapters about her time in Iraq read more like vignettes, and the book had a very disconnected feeling, especially with the awkwardly inserted chapters about missing home. I’m going to go ahead and say that you guys can safely skip this one, if you were considering it.
Rule Number Two, by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft. Published 2007, 243 pages. Memoir.