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God‘s Children (Book review)

Mike Bobbitt

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Directing Staff
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God‘s Children
Book Review

I‘ve got a cousin now serving with the Canadian contingent of the NATO peace keeping force in Bosnia. She‘s appears to be turning into a career soldier, and this is not her first tour there. She seems rather blasé about it and e mails me and other members of the family on a regular basis.

Maybe it‘s the old soldier in me, but I kind of wish it was me over there. It‘s not just envy that makes me wish that, but guilt too. Why should she have to do more than her fair share, while I sit back here and enjoy myself. Naturally I worry about her, and in turn all of those serving there. I know they are well trained, but still I worry. After reading this latest novel by Harold Coyle, I may worry just a little harder.

God‘s Children is also set in Central Europe. In the near future another conflict erupts there, this time in the Republic of Slovakia. There the ethnic Hungarian minority is being persecuted by the Slovak majority. Actually persecuted is too nice a term. What is actually happening is ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Thrust into this is a NATO peace keeping force, just as in real life in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The American soldiers in God‘s Children, and their real life counterparts are experiencing an unexpected and unwanted "dividend" of the end of the cold war. With the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, and the balance of power/terror gone forever, old wounds opened. Old enemies renewed ancient conflicts, without the threat of check or reprisal of a now impotent superpower. Borders changed and countries fragmented throughout Central Europe and the Balkans. Sometimes peacefully, most times not.

Young men and woman found themselves in an impossible situation. Stuck between two or more hostile factions, who didn‘t want them there, and resented their presence almost as much as they as do each other. They are often given impossible and unrealistic orders, drafted by desk bound bureaucrats hundreds of miles removed from the scene.

They are overworked, tired, lonely, frustrated and often stressed out. Despite this they continue to do their duty. Most times it may seem futile, but maybe just maybe it makes a small difference.

For the Americans it is a relatively new experience. The Canadian‘s and some other nation‘s soldiers are old hands at this. They‘ve been "peace keepers" for over forty years now.

The peace keepers in God‘s Children are the young men of 3 Platoon, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion 13th Infantry. They‘ve been given a routine mission, one they‘ve done a hundred times before, and will do a hundred times again before they leave Slovakia. A simple cross country patrol to "show the flag." This time it will be anything but routine.

The platoon soon finds itself in the middle of a shooting war, as the simmering tensions between the belligerents burst into open armed conflict. Caught "behind" the "enemy" lines they are forced to conducting a fighting withdrawal toward the safety of the NATO positions. Not only are there people shooting at them, the platoon is also wracked with internal conflicts and strife. It only remains to be seen which will destroy them first.

Coyle of course is a retired military officer as well as the author of several best selling works in the genre. Those familiar with the exploits of his literary hero and possible alter ego, career officer Scott Dixon, will be pleased to know that the tradition lives on here. One the central characters is his son, Lieutenant Nat Dixon.

Coyle, as can be expected knows his stuff. All the technical data is accurate, and the battle scenes are realistic. He can also write, something that is not always the case in this genre. There are too many bad novels out there, usually written by ex military types who can‘t string a paragraph together, much letter develop a plot or character.

Those types usually resort to filing the pages with reams of technical data to hide their shortcomings. The result reads more like a training or users manual for a weapon system than a novel. They are usually about as interesting to read as those manuals too.

That‘s not the case here. We get a fairly good story, with for the most part plausible characters who develop as the pages are turned. There is a good bit of tension as we along with the fictional members of 3 Platoon move from crisis to crisis, and try and fight their way home.

The book also provides a good study in the aspects of command and leadership especially at the small unit level. Again here Coyle shows his lengthy and hard won expertise. This is one I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves leading men and/or woman in "harms way." Were I still in uniform, this is one I would suggest as valuable reading to the section and platoon commanders in my company.

It‘s not perfect however and I did have one problem with it. Some of the characters are a bit of a cliché. We have the rich kid, new platoon commander as naive as he is arrogant. I realise that a central theme in the novel is the conflict between him and the more experienced members of the platoon, but this is too much. We used to have an old saying that the only reason you followed a 2/Lt. was idle curiosity, but in this case Coyle may have gone too far in creating a cliché.

There also a few other almost stock characters here. The embittered cynical veteran, the street wise smart a*s black kid, the solid dependable Hispanic. Basically it reads almost like a cliché slice of Americana or one of those old war movies of the 1940‘s like Bataan.

These minor points aside it‘s worth reading though. When she gets back, I think I‘ll send a copy to my cousin. I‘d like her take on it.