Category Archives: Iraq

The Luncheon Society/ David Finkel, the Pulitzer Prize Winning author of The Good Soldiers/San Francisco—Palio D’Asti/September 9, 2010

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The New York Times has called David Finkel’s latest book, The Good Soldiers , one of best non-fiction entries about the fighting in Iraq and it paints a gripping portrait from the soldier’s point of view.

Finkel’s book, which was a “top ten book of 2009” selection by The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Slate.Com, The Boston Globe, The Kansas City Star, The Cleveland Plain Dealer The Christian Science Monitor as well as several other news organizations, has now been published in soft cover.  Finkel won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post based on his reporting on American efforts to fund democracy projects within Yemen and he lives with his family in Maryland.

On tour to support the release, Finkel sat down with The Luncheon Society in San Francisco at Palio d’Asti, a long time favorite locale for our group.

Finkel argues that every war is fought on two levels.  The first is found within the corridors of power that flow between the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon.  This is a world where paper battles rage between the participants and the only front-line casualties are wounded egos and reputations. These conflicts fill the tomes written by people like Bob Woodward and when compared to the battle theater, they read as if the real fighting was some far-off abstraction.    Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/First Half 2010 recap/What’s coming up in the Second Half

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I thought I would quickly touch base now that we have completed the first half of 2010. Thus far  there have been 19 gatherings San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Manhattan.  We look for an equal number in the second half and should round out the year at 38-40.

Reminder.  To remind everybody, the SF and the LA Luncheon Society gatherings for Christopher Hitchens have been postponed and will be rescheduled later in 2010.

The Luncheon Society website.  For those who are unable to join us around the table,  you can subscribe to have The Luncheon Society summaries sent via email.  Click on the links below to learn more about the luncheons. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Sebastian Junger, best selling author of “War” and “The Perfect Storm”/SF-One Market Restaurant/May 24, 2010

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One of the great things about The Luncheon Society ™ is we can take a seminal issue and look at it from a variety of angles and perspectives in a conversational tone. 

This is what The Luncheon Society is all about.  It’s especially the case with the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Former Secretaries of State George Schulz and Warren Christopher gave their own individual thoughts on the statecraft behind the decisions to invade.  William Perry, former Secretary of Defense under Clinton, worried that the movement of assets from Afghanistan to Iraq would harm the mission against the Taliban in the long-term. Paul Rieckhoff, Craig Mullaney, and Phil Carter wrote at length to give us their viewpoint of the soldier in the field.  Journalists like Ahmed Rashid, Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Alter, and The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer chimed in on the political lay of the land as well as the use of torture. Ambassador Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame joined The Luncheon Society on several occasions to discuss being unmasked as a CIA operative as political payback. Janis Karpinski spoke of abu Ghraib and Dan Ellsberg compared the secrets of the battlefield that so often papered over in times of war. More will join us in the future.

Sebastian Junger’s War. With that in mind, we especially pleased to sit with journalist and writer Sebastian Junger, who while not writing for Men’s Journal, The National Geographic or Vanity Fair, pens books and articles about people with dangerous jobs. Most are familiar with his work about the fishermen aboard the Andrea Gail, as well as the Coast Guard’s efforts to save them, which were detailed in his book (which later became the movie) The Perfect Storm . In fact, his description of what takes place when a person drowns is one of the more harrowing reads found in non-fiction.

In his new book titled, “War,” Junger follows a small group of soldiers for a better part of a year into one of the most distant outposts in Afghanistan. Junger steers clear from the political and burrows down into their daily lives.  It’s backbreaking and dangerous stuff; Junger spends a great deal of time discussing the stresses and intense pressures that come with combat. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Congressman Alan Grayson on Healthcare/LA-Napa Valley Grille/April 24, 2010

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For Congressman Alan Grayson, the current representative from Florida’s 8th congressional district, Sam Rayburn’s cardinal rule of “to get along, go along” has little use to him. Instead Grayson has charted another path, freely speaking his mind on healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as other items on his mind. He is a man in a hurry.

An Unfiltered Progressive. Last year during the heat of the debate on healthcare, Alan Grayson suggested that the Republican alternative was thus: Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

The partisan response was swift and white hot. Some Republicans demanded that he apologize on the House floor.  “I would like to apologize,” he said. “I would like to apologize to the dead.”

Stating that 44,789 Americans die each year due to their inability to get healthcare insurance, the Congressman continued, “That is more than ten times the number of Americans who died in the war in Iraq, it’s more than ten times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. It happens every year. I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner,” he said. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/ Paul Rieckhoff Executive Director of Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), on issues facing returnees/SF-Palio D’Asti, March 4, 2010

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Three days before the 82nd annual Academy Awards, Paul Rieckhoff discussed how American soldiers were portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “The Hurt Locker,” As the founder and Executive Director of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America  (IAVA), Rieckhoff has become the voice for those who fought overseas and are now readjusting to a new life stateside.

The Luncheon Society sat down with Paul when he was in San Francisco for his third meeting with us in three years, the prior being in Los Angeles and Manhattan.  The latter gathering shared with former Slate.com military affairs writer, Phil Carter, who later served during the early months of the Obama White House as the Assistant Secretary Defense for Detainee Affairs.

As “The Hurt Locker” tallied up 6 Academy Award after being nominated for 9, you could sense Paul’s frustration grow throughout the evening from comments posted on Facebook; in the final analysis, he believed, the filmmakers did not get Iraq right.

Rieckhoff rarely moonlights as a movie critic. However, he leads of the first and largest non-profit organization to support those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the recent legislation to overhaul the GI Bill of Rights, Paul and the IAVA performed a pivotal service. They were the human face to the long-needed policy upgrade. Today, the IAVA has over 125,000 members and the organization is critical to those vets coming home.  

After Rieckhoff returned home in 2004 from his tour in Iraq, where he led hundred of combat patrols throughout Baghdad, he penned a critically acclaimed memoir Chasing Ghosts.   When he could not find an organization that he felt met the need to today’s returning troops, he founded the IAVA.

Why would Rieckhoff be frustrated by the movie portrayal of those fighting on the streets of Iraq? We live in a disengaged nation where the war effort is carried by the broad shoulders of the ½ of 1% who are doing the fighting and dying overseas.  The rest of us show our support through ribbons placed on our SUVs, which hardly constitutes a home front. With media coverage on the wane in Iraq and muted in Afghanistan, movie portrayals of those “in country” may be the only connection that bridges that narrow minority with the rest of us. Continue reading