“Thank you for your service” is one of the most frequently uttered phrases to those toiling in Americans’ most trusted, but least understood, institution: the United States military. Such displays of gratitude rarely extend to those in the same business but out of uniform. In her first novel, Kathleen McInnis takes on this less explored and more mysterious group: the civilian men and, particularly, women who work in the building responsible for American national security. On the surface, “The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon” draws easy comparisons to “The Devil Wears Prada.” A young woman leaves her job in academia to work for the Department of Defense, partly to help pay off student loans but largely in memory of her brother, who was killed serving in Afghanistan. She has no idea what to expect. Late nights, office conflicts, physical comedy and touching romance ensue. McInnis, a former Pentagon staff member herself, humanizes the usually faceless bureaucrats of the defense establishment but also exposes the inner workings of the war machine in an affecting, if sometimes disturbing, way.
Like McInnis and me, a former staff member for the Department of Defense and the National Security Council, Dr. Heather Reilly enters the Pentagon for the first time as a 28-year-old civilian, joining a team of career bureaucrats and uniformed staff charged with providing strategies, tools and oversight to a military that is deep into the war in Afghanistan. Her reasons for being there are repeatedly challenged by friends, family and colleagues, who say she is too young, too female, too inexperienced, too academic, too pacifist or too emotionally tied to her job to do it properly. Despite their judgments, she stays, though not to build peace in Afghanistan as she originally planned.
Read the full review and conversation in The New York Times Magazine.
More from CNAS
CommentaryWomen in Combat: Five-Year Status Update
It has been five years since the ban on women in combat was lifted in 2015 and women began integrating previously closed combat arms billets in January 2016. Five years is the...
By Emma Moore
PodcastWomen in National Security: Emma Moore
Emma Moore joins the CNAS Women in National Security podcast mini-series on human capital to discuss changing the requirements for national service....
By Loren DeJonge Schulman & Emma Moore
PodcastA Conversation with Maggie Feldman-Piltch and #NatSecGirlSquad
#NatSecGirlSquad founder and Unicorn Strategies managing director Maggie Feldman-Piltch joins Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend to discuss the importance of competent div...
By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend & Maggie Feldman-Piltch
PodcastWomen in National Security: Maggie Feldman-Piltch
Maggie Feldman-Piltch joins the CNAS Women in National Security podcast mini-series on human capital to discuss the gaps she sees in launching and advancing careers in nationa...
By Loren DeJonge Schulman & Maggie Feldman-Piltch