Click Here To Purchase Walking the Tiger's Path: A Soldier's Spiritual Journey in Iraq

Author: Paul M. Kendel

Publisher: Tendril Press
ISBN: 9780984154357

For centuries, there’s been a tug of war for the hearts and minds of fans of war fiction. For every grimly realistic portrait of the horrors of war in such books as Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, there’s a countervailing, romanticized view in works such as the rapturous Gone with the Wind, or the page-turning intrigue of Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. One of the first and greatest works in all of Western literature, The Illiad, is a celebration of the heroism and valor of war, a theme undermined in our time by such savagely ironic treatments as Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five.

If so inclined, one could separate most popular war fiction (and this includes films as well, from WWII propaganda movies and militaristic paeans like The Green Berets to the nihilism of Apocalypse Now and the stark moral bankruptcy of Platoon) into the “Pro” and “Con” camps. War is Glorious. War is Hell.

But here’s a novel proposition: perhaps war can result in a little of both.

In Walking the Tiger’s Path: A Soldier’s Spiritual Journey in Iraq, Paul M. Kendel recounts how the hell of warfare brought him closer to a sort of personal enlightenment. Somehow, amid the boredom, rage and incompetence that has earmarked much of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Kendel, a former active duty Army enlistee and later member of the Georgia National Guard, came to embrace a Buddhist-centered spirituality.

Kendel’s book weaves several narrative strands, but first and foremost, it’s a memoir of one unit’s day-to-day grind in the dusty, dangerous post-invasion Iraq. The story is likely somewhat familiar by now to most people: U.S. forces (and their coalition partners) face a difficult daily negotiation between trying to win the hearts and minds of the locals and staying alert to the insurgency which often hides its face among the smiling mob. Kendel writes compellingly about the tug-of-war of emotions that the average soldier faces over there, from the genuine desire to help rebuild a country and instill a democracy to the resentment and fear of each passing vehicle (which might be driven by a suicide bomber) and the ever-present fear of snipers and roadside bombs. Life in a shooting gallery skews even the most rational perspective. After reading Kendel’s book, you understand what a slippery (but predictable) slope it is from the high-flown rhetoric of presidential speeches to the cruel, craven abuses at Abu Ghraib.

As Sergeant Kendel wrestles with the darker angels of his nature (he finds himself shooting at passing civilian vehicles and launching grenades to relieve his stress), he decides to send an e-mail to Shambhala, a worldwide network of meditation centers. Kendel had a passing familiarity with Tibetan Buddhism but finds it difficult to put the lessons of non-violence and tolerance into action amid the uncertainty and terror of war-torn Iraq. When an official with Shambhala responds, a dialogue ensues, and Kendel finds a lifeline, an oasis of rationality in a moral morass.

By the time Kendel’s tour is up, he’s run the gamut of emotions, from naïve patriotic impulse to garden variety concern to anger and resignation and then something akin to enlightenment. But as his narrative makes clear, the overwhelming majority of soldiers in Iraq are far less enlightened when it comes to seeing the Iraqi people as anything other than potential enemies, targets to keep in the cross hairs rather than fellow human beings simply trying to live their lives.

Kendel’s story is an important one, a tale for our times about how war dehumanizes everyone it touches. Kendel is no dewy-eyed pacifist and his quest to retain his humanity is gripping, largely because he fails as often as he succeeds. He’s no Homeric hero but rather a fully flawed human being, facing an internal war that seems every bit as potentially annihilating as the larger conflict that graces our TV screens and newspapers.


Click Here To Purchase Walking the Tiger's Path: A Soldier's Spiritual Journey in Iraq