Phil Klay’s REDEPLOYMENT is a collection of short stories about men serving in Iraq and Afghanistan or readjusting to civilian life. Brutal, raw, honest, and so nuanced it throws the very idea of PC out the window, it’s a brilliant analysis of humans at war and how war breaks everything.
Each of the twelve stories is told by a nameless veteran in first person. We don’t get to know them very well except through their experience, how it affects them, and how they describe it, providing a very intimate snapshot of a person’s life in or after war. Some of the narrators were directly in the thick of it while others at its periphery, though all in one way or another are affected.
What’s remarkable about these stories, written by a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and conducted enormous research into war experiences of fellow veterans, is how raw and honest they are. The soldiers in his stories aren’t lionized as gung-ho, flag-waving, earnest young men, nor are they portrayed as utterly virtuous but pitifully broken pawns. No kid gloves here, and you’ll find no comforting and childish stereotypes. Popular political narratives on all sides are frankly challenged (and wrecked), though there’s no apparent political agenda on the part of the author aside from asking the reader to see these veterans as real people, take it or leave it and make up your own mind, an approach I found utterly refreshing. Nothing is contrived in each story, which simply tells it like it is from one veteran’s point of view, with all the good, the bad, the ugly, and the horrifying.
The moral of each story can be difficult to grasp, as it’s highly nuanced. Generally, there are themes of whether morality can co-exist with war, all shades of guilt and fear, survival, helplessness when death can come at any time by pure chance, and the struggle to find meaning in what was essentially chaos. In one story, a veteran who supports a friend who survived horrible burns finds himself caring but envious, in another a veteran takes on a comrade’s guilt over shooting an armed child to the point it becomes real to him, and in another a priest struggles to comfort a unit that has utterly demonized the enemy and is shooting civilians. The stories are tragic, delivered frankly and without judgment, and seem to focus on the idea that once war gets in your head, it can be difficult for some to get rid of it. They’re also very procedural, providing what at least appears to be an authentic view from the front lines of the global war on terror.
Overall, this civilian found the stories disturbing, thoughtful, powerful, and moving. I recommend the read.