The Fifth Act

The Fifth Act

Photo credit: Janet Donovan
Second slider photo courtedy of La Republica

“Tragedies are typically told in five acts. And so the first act of the book is from a political standpoint, presidency. So it’s President Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden, and the fifth act is the Taliban. And so that is sort of one layer of the book. The other five act structure of the book is it tells the story of five evacuations I was involved with, each individually and they had different outcomes. Some were successful, some were not successful,” author Elliot Ackerman told Hollywood on the Potomac.

A book party was held in honor of Ackerman at the home of Juleanna Glover and Christopher Reiter for The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan.

About the book: “The Fifth Act is an astonishing human document that brings the weight of twenty years of war to bear on a single week, the week the war ended. Using the dramatic rescue efforts in Kabul as his lattice, Ackerman weaves a personal history of the war’s long progression, beginning with the initial invasion in the months after 9/11. It is a play in five acts, the fifth act being the story’s tragic denouement, a prelude to Afghanistan’s dark future. Any reader who wants to understand what went wrong with the war’s trajectory will find a trenchant account here. But The Fifth Act also brings readers into close contact with a remarkable group of characters, American and Afghan, who fought the war with courage and dedication, and at great personal cost. Ackerman’s story is a first draft of history that feels like a timeless classic.” Amazon

Prior to a few words by the author, followed by a robust Q & A, we had a chance to sit down with Elliott.

“The last part of the book is about time I spent in Afghanistan, specifically one time in 2008 where I was leading a convoy and we were ambushed and one of my colleagues was killed and how we were trying to get his body out because so much of what was happening in Afghanistan. The undercurrent was what does it mean not to leave people behind? And so, as I was involved in the evacuation efforts, it caused me to sort of think about my own past in the country in times when I did or did not live up to that ideal of leaving nobody behind. So generally speaking, that’s sort of the structure of the book. It toggles around quite a bit in time while staying true to those sort of those themes.”

Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau

Q: Could we have done the evacuation better?

“I think so, absolutely.  There was no contingency planning for a worse case scenario in which the Kabul government would collapse before US forces pulled out.  That wasn’t really considered there. You know, there wasn’t a contingency plan for a larger evacuation to a place like Guam. We also had a very slow, special visa process. So we weren’t vetting Afghans quickly enough. We’ve known that we were pulling out for years,  so we could have accelerated the SIV process, but we didn’t. And when the collapse happened, we were very much on our back foot and didn’t have a plan for it. And,  the result was for the pandemonium that you saw at the airport.”

Q: Who is still there and how can that be corrected or can it be? Obviously there are  people still there that should be evacuated, right?

“Well, many of our allies are still there and they don’t have a way out now because the Taliban controls the country. We also have many of our allies who are in third countries who are not as sympathetic to their plight and we need to get The United States  to continue processing all the special immigrant visas as quickly as we can. And the last part is we did get about 80,000 people to this country, but they’re still here under humanitarian parole. So their status is not established in the United States. And if their status is not adjusted, they’ll be deported. So there is legislation in Congress right now, the Afghan Adjustment Act, but it has to get passed because the only way these people will be able to get green cards to start actually working here and get on the pathway to citizenship is through the Afghan Adjustment Act,  so there’s work to be done.”

“There are books at the front of the house, but if you take one, you are morally obligated to go on Amazon and buy one.” Juleanna Glover