John Kael Weston represented the United States for more than a decade as a State Department official. Washington acknowledged his multi-year work in Fallujah with Marines by awarding him one of its highest honors, the Secretary of State’s Medal for Heroism.
Weston's 2016 book is The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From the transcript of the author's interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is J. Kael Weston, author of the new war memoir "The Mirror Test." He served seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2010. He was working as a State Department official and political adviser. Prior to that, he led American efforts in the U.N. Security Council to freeze and block al-Qaida-linked assets. He received the secretary of state's medal for heroism.Visit J. Kael Weston's website.
I think it's fair to say that the most personally devastating part of the war for you was when 30 men, 30 Marines and one Navy corpsman, died in a helicopter clash over the Anbar desert in Iraq. They were all killed. And you hold yourself responsible for the mission they were on and, therefore, consider yourself responsible for their deaths. That's a terrible burden to carry. What was the mission? And what was your goal in creating that mission?
WESTON: We had an Iraqi election coming up in January of 2005. So Marine leaders and I were in Fallujah trying to come up with the best strategy to allow, you know, those purple finger moments if we remember the Iraqi voters. And in a province as big Iraq, we had a couple of options. One option was to just focus on the two primary population centers, Fallujah and Ramadi, which had the support of a top general - in fact, General Dunford who's now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And it was a very logical, wise policy.
And then there was the other side of the argument, which I advocated. And that was we needed to go wide rather than just deep. We needed to give more Sunnis in Anbar, more Iraqis the opportunity to vote. And I believe that because one, politically, if you're a tribal leader in a small community and Marines have not protected your polling site and your people can't vote, the day after the election, you may point a finger at the Americans or at the election commission and say, you know, my people didn't have the chance to vote for me. So there was that practical side.
The problem was - and here's where the conscience comes in - is that the Sunni leaders had been telling me they were going to boycott the election. So I basically overruled the staff officers. And it was a political issue. It was a State Department issue. And so we decided to go wide. And that is the mission they were on, flying low and fast over a dark, cold desert, and one of the helicopters crashed. And to make tragedy even more tragedy, the lives were lost and, sure enough, very few voters voted. I also think that, you know, responsibility and accountability in wartime goes to...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Mirror Test.