The success of Chris Kyle’s war novel “American Sniper” seems to have set off a tidal wave of war memoirs that are trying to give the American public more of the same. One of those memoirs is titled “Carnivore,” and being distributed by the same publisher that Chris used, and while the influence of Chris’ book is very evident, this is a different kind of memoir . . .
I actually heard about this book when the author emailed me with the subject line “You shot me in the head!” Turns out that during a Crimson Trace sponsored junket I actually had popped the co-author in the noggin with a simunition round. James Tarr is writer in question and he helped Dillard Johnson bring his war story to life.
While Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL and mostly talks about his experiences in Afghanistan, Dillard Johnson spent the war in Iraq at the tip of the spear in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. That position let him and his crew rack up one of the highest body counts of any unit. Ever.
You can definitely see the influence of Chris’ novel on this book. The writing style is almost identical, but the stories are very different. Where Chris focused on human aspect of the war, Johnson focuses on the action — of which there is quite a lot. The book starts out with a few chapters about Johnson’s family life, and then quickly moves into describing in gory detail the fighting that he participated in while “in the sandbox.” From the build-up on the Iraqi border to scenes of street fighting in An Najaf, the book reads like “Generation Kill” except with more action scenes and fewer discussions of shooting camels.
For the armchair soldier looking for exciting stories of combat, this is just about as good as it gets. The stories are written with the same conversational and self deprecating tone that we’ve come to know and love from modern war memoirs, but with a more aggressive stance than Chris’ book. In fact, some of the stories had already made their way into Soldier of Fortune in the form of after action reports, and that’s without any of the storytelling that makes this book really flow. It makes for an entertaining read for anyone who enjoys war movies.
That being said, there’s a bit of controversy following this book around. For example, some people are questioning the number of kills claimed by the book jacket. Johnson says that he doesn’t claim that number in the book (he doesn’t), and that the numbers were added by the publisher for publicity. Also slightly controversial is that Johnson describes some of his activities in the novel as being a sniper, and while he does make the distinction very clear (he was a grunt who picked up a M21, not a trained sniper) he claims to use the term to describe the activity for the less well informed readers.
How much of this book is the truth and how much was inflated to sell copies? We’ll never know for sure. But if you read it with that caveat in mind, it’s an interesting story. And as someone once told me, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
If you’re looking for an exciting war memoir told by someone from the tip of the spear in Iraq, this is the book for you. For that reason, I highly recommend picking up a copy.