I knew that Eastern alumnus Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, To Baghdad and Beyond, would elicit an emotional response in me, but I never thought a book review would be so difficult to write. I spent a year in Baghdad myself, and I do not have many fond memories of the Middle East.
To Baghdad and Beyond is Wilson-Hartgrove’s story about his journey to Iraq during the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003. Wilson-Hartgrove, his wife and several members of Christian peace teams broke American law by traveling to Iraq and were deported after only five days in the country after breaking Iraqi law.
Although his book is very well written and deals much more with Wilson-Hartgrove’s spiritual journey than his physical one, it is a shame that he could not have followed the rules and stayed in Baghdad longer so that he could develop a better perspective on the Iraqi people.
Make no mistake, this book has an agenda: an agenda of peace. Peace is a respectable ideal, even to this OIF veteran.
Wilson-Hartgrove raises many questions about just war, America’s foreign policy and the way that we perceive people of different cultures. Sadly, he does little to answer these questions, nor to tell exactly what was accomplished by his journey other than a personal spiritual renewal.
He writes repeatedly about the validity of a “third way,” an option besides war or inaction. However, he never proposes a practical process to live this “third way” in a world where not everyone shares his ideals.
In spite of the shortcomings of To Baghdad and Beyond and the blatant slant to the camp of pacifism and non-violent resistance, it gives readers an opportunity to look at this war and others in a different light.
Wilson-Hartgrove writes about hope that he found in the nation of the biblical Babylon, when hospitality was shown to him and other Americans by Iraqis whose country was being invaded by other Americans.
This hope, he believes, is applicable to the United States, a country he thinks may be the “great whore” spoken of in Scripture.
I recommend Wilson-Hartgrove’s book to anyone who has questions about just war or pacifism and anyone else that has already made up his or her mind. Read it with a grain of salt and take comfort in this man’s spiritual journey, but if you want to know the facts about Iraq or other war-torn countries, ask someone who spent more than five days there.