Tribune Print Share Text

Title

New war stories about a new generation of soldiers

Redeployment takes readers to the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan

Created date

June 25th, 2014
U.S. Marines in Al Anbar, Iraq, 2005.
U.S. Marines in Al Anbar, Iraq, 2005.

“I tell you, war is hell,” declared General William Sherman during a commencement address in June of 1879. Any soldier in any army throughout history would undoubtedly agree with Sherman. However, while all war is hell, all wars are also unique. 

The hell experienced by soldiers in World War II was different from what soldiers in Vietnam experienced. News reports and nonfiction writers give the public the facts, but it is war fiction that can unify the hellish nature of all wars while distinguishing one conflict from another. The long list of brilliant war literature includes Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H novels, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

A new batch of war literature, detailing war in the twenty-first century is emerging, and Phil Klay’s Redeployment is among the best of it. A collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Klay approaches conflict from a variety of perspectives. From an infantryman to a foreign service officer to a mortuary affairs marine to a chaplain, Klay explores the personal horrors faced by soldiers up and down the chain of command. “The narrators of my stories interpret what they’ve been through in different ways,” says Klay. “They go through radically different experiences and make very different choices.”

‘I wanted to do my part’

Soon after graduating from Dartmouth College, Klay joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a public affairs official in Iraq’s Anbar Providence during the surge. On his decision to join the marines, Klay says, “I was in my early twenties and I cared about public service, and my nation was going to war. I knew our conduct overseas would impact millions of lives, primarily Iraqi and Afghan lives, and I wanted to do my part.”

Klay was in Iraq from January 2007 until February 2008. Like many vets, Klay found that returning to the States and civilian life took some getting used to. “When you come back and you go to a city like New York or D.C., there’s very little sense that we’re a nation at war...and yet, you’ve just been in a place where nightmares are common. I think that was my first way of thinking of that experience.”

Upon his return, Klay earned an MFA from Hunter College and attended New York University’s Veterans Writing Workshop. That workshop and the conversations he had there with other vets helped shape his book. “[NYU] was a group of people who cared about the issues I did, and who’d argue them with me or recommend what to read or read my writing and tear it up with really smart, important edits. I couldn’t get away with certain types of BS that civilian readers would let me slide on.”

Redeployment

All twelve of the stories that make up Redeployment are told in the first person with each narrator battling his own demons. One particularly haunting story, “After Action Report,” told by an MP (military police), conveys the near constant stress and unease soldiers in Iraq faced. “Somebody said combat is 99% sheer boredom and 1% pure terror. They weren’t an MP in Iraq,” says the lance corporal.  

Nathan, a foreign service officer at the helm of a Provincial Reconstruction Team, narrates “Money as a Weapons System.” Like all soldiers, he worries about fitting in and the danger of his job, but unlike those on the front lines, he recognizes that his war zone experience will give his resume a boost when he returns to the States. In one of the more humorous situations in the book, Nathan is tasked with introducing young Iraqis to the sport of baseball at the insistence of “the mattress king of northern Kansas.”  

Marine talk

One thing that links all of the stories is the language that is unique to the Marines. In one very short story, “OIF,” there is an acronym in every sentence. “OIF” uses acronyms to the extreme, but they are generously sprinkled throughout the book. While it may seem off-putting, it was part of Klay’s objective. “It was very important to me that people who weren’t in the military could understand this book...but I didn’t want everything intelligible. For some of those narrators you might think, ‘whoa, this is a whole different language,’ and that’s part of the point. You’re not supposed to look [the acronyms] up. This is the way he talks and if you follow the rhythms of that speech, you’ll understand it. You’ll understand what’s important to him and what he’s trying to get across even if you don’t know what AZD means.” 

What are Klay’s hopes for the book? “We’ve got a volunteer military. A small percentage of people who serve, and yet, it’s not the soldier who is issuing orders, it’s our elected officials,” says Klay. “Aside from the politics of it, there are things you want people to understand. At the very least, it starts a conversation about what you’ve been through.”

Comments