This morning, instead of heading out for a longed-for run in that quiet half hour between the kids’ departure for school and the forward rush of my day, I sat down to glance at the Times and got swallowed up by other thoughts: on writing, and on war. Both of these subjects have been much on my mind lately. I started a post last night, winding through the “why” of my recurrent interest in war (focused at present through a writing assignment and a class I’m wanting to lead). But instead of returning to my own reasons right now, and the inward gaze it necessitated, today I want to look outward.
Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. You’ve probably already read or heard that somewhere. One of those news headlines or story ledes; we all love an anniversary, especially in the media. It’s a hook, isn’t it? And then we turn back to other things. Except when it’s your life, your experience.
What got me going this morning, wrestling with reaction and words, instead of running alongside the river, was a reader’s comment on a NYT blog. The blog itself contained three short pieces by veterans, the fourth such entry in a six part series. I had been fortunate enough to hear these three writers (Phil Klay, Mariette Kalinowski, and Colby Buzzell) read from their work, along with the editors, Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton, of the collection in which they appeared, Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, over the course of two recent events featuring the book, along with two other of its contributors, Siobhan Fallon and Jacob Siegel.
The aggravating comment on the NYT site seems to have been removed, a tangential yet somewhat interesting detail. The comment suggested that the writing about war experiences was romanticizing war and the writers were benefiting from atrocity, and that any ‘benefit’ should be returned to victims, such as those in Iraq. While I strongly took issue with the gist of the comment, most particularly an assigning of blame to soldiers instead of to politicians and civilians who elect them and/or perpetuate policies, I would not have guessed that the offending words would be taken down. They had the effect of spurring debate (from other readers), and forced me to hone in on some of the thoughts on my mind. I’m going to share my comment here – and then I hope you’ll go read the pieces, where the real stories begin.
Writing is a brave and arduous task, when taken seriously, which these three have done. In a few hundred words, each of them has given a small glimpse into different facets of what it means to be a soldier and what war looks like up close. Certainly, there are many more angles, opinions, and emotions that could be added; likely even contradictory ones from the same person. Ignoring the voices of veterans – indeed the voices of any difficult and complex experience or issue – is to wallow in the comfort of ignorance. As to “gaining” from their experience as soldiers: everyday isn’t this what all of us attempt to do – move forward, whether from a difficult place or a comfortable one, trying to build on what we’ve learned? We don’t blame a college student for looking for a job after finishing school, using his/her experience. Why should we blame a vet for writing about experiences, whether we would wish them for ourselves or for anyone? It is too easy to devalue the importance of written accounts and to ignore the value of throwing aside silence and secrecy, for individuals and for society as a whole. Thank you to these men and women, and their comrades, for the difficult task of examining what they have seen and been through, and making the brave attempt to craft those experiences into essays and stories that have the potential to bring us all closer to understanding – what we do or don’t want, and what we might wish we didn’t have to understand.
~ ~ ~
~ Also on the subject of war: my first piece for Highbrow Magazine came out last week…
~ The war in Yugoslavia during the 1990’s has long been of deep interest to me, just one of the reasons I have turned to Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon’s fantastic stories, novel, and his new non-fiction book, The Book of My Lives. I hope this chance to think intently about Bosnia again will continue to spur edits on my earlier novel, Down the Street a Building Burned. But I am also just pleased to share thoughts on Hemon’s work, and the fascinating themes woven into his fiction and essays. ~
~ I am now a Contributing Writer for Highbrow Magazine and look forward to having more work there throughout the year. ~
~ ~ ~