Redeployment by Phil Klay
I first heard about Redeployment when it won the National Book Award for Fiction last year. I was somewhat surprised since I had thought the book was a collection of real war stories. It turns out that all the short stories are made up. Together, they give a wide range of perspectives on what it was like to be part of the war. There’s the grunt, the sergeant, the PsychOps, the Mortuary Affairs officer, and even the chaplain. There’s the vet who shoots his own dog, the vet who loses his girlfriend, the vet who studies at Amherst, and the vet who gets a $160K job at a top law firm. I didn’t find each individual story to be very powerful, but this book is a perfect example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
1) “When I got to the window and handed in my rifle, though, it brought me up short. That was the first time I’d been separated from it in months. I didn’t know where to rest my hands. First I put them in my pockets, then I took them out and crossed my arms, and then I just let them hang, useless, at my sides.”
This is like me without my laptop. Marines -> Rifle: Consultant -> Laptop
2) “We didn’t want to talk to anybody else. I got on my PSP, played Grand Theft Auto, and Timhead pulled out his Nintendo DS and played Pokemon Diamond.”
Even though this is fiction, there’s no way anyone could have thought of soldiers playing Pokemon in Iraq unless he actually witnessed this. Pokemon has no boundaries.
3) “Crazy thing was, now I didn’t want to. I mean, to curl up with this girl, who’d made me beg? I was a veteran. Who was she?”
A good number of the stories touch upon the pros and cons of being a Marine in terms of getting girls. Pros: brave, badass, uniform. Cons: time away, injuries, pity points. What are the confounding variables here? The decision to join the army is a clear signal for other traits. This topic is perfect for a Reddit thread, although I think the Reddit population would be quite biased.
4) “We remade the Ministry of Agriculture on free market principles, but the invisible hand of the market started planting IEDs.”
IEDs are improvised explosive devices – planted by Iraqis – that were the primary cause of death for soldiers.
5) “‘I am Iraqi.’ she’d said on my previous visit. ‘I am used to promises that are good but not real.'”
The book puts a spotlight on the phoniness of US reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Check multiple boxes by making it look like they helped Iraqi women start businesses. Take a picture of Iraqi kids in baseball uniforms swinging a bat.
6) “He had come to the Americans because they had the best doctors, the only safe doctors, not because he liked us. He’d already lost a son, he told me, to the violence that came after the invasion. He blamed us for that. He blames us for the fact that he can’t walk down the street without fear of being killed for no reason.”
I find the civilian aspect of war fascinating. How do wars happen? Usually it’s a small group of extremists. Or the government. For a lot of people, it’s out of their hands. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to suffer the consequences.
7) “Nobody wants to be the guy in the squad who hasn’t killed anybody, and nobody joins the Marine Corps to avoid pulling triggers.”
Like any other organization, the Marines has a social element, which means it has social problems. What happens when people feel that they need to prove themselves? At the individual’s level? Or even for the US as a whole?
8) “The weird thing with being a veteran, at least for me, is that you do feel better than most people. You risked your life for something bigger than yourself. How many people can say that? You chose to serve. Maybe you didn’t understand American foreign policy or why we were at war. Maybe you never will. But it doesn’t matter. You held up your hand and said, ‘I’m willing to die for these worthless civilians.'”
I disagree with two things here. 1) Everyone risks his/her life for something bigger. It just happens to be something else. 2) Civilians are not ‘worthless.’ Obviously, this is a fictional character, so it’s more of a commentary on how veterans struggle to fit in with the rest of society, where most people cannot comprehend their sacrifices. The same case can be made for scientists or other people who may think more highly of themselves because they serve the public good. The act of comparison is the fundamental problem here. If I say I’m better than ‘selfish’ people who only care about making money for themselves, that’s also a problem.
9) “If the Marine Corps was any indication, idealism-based jobs didn’t save you from wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”
Don’t choose the job the aligns with society’s ‘ideal’ values. Choose the job that aligns with your values. If your values happen to be society’s ideal values, then by all means, go for it.
10) “I can see that, the shrapnel thudding into shattered corpses, the force of it jerking the limbs this way and that.”
Best imagery in the book.
Maybe it’s because I don’t personally know any veterans, but this book didn’t strike me as very memorable. The part I got the most out of was seeing how different roles reflected on their war experiences. Otherwise, the stories didn’t make a big impression on me. The slew of abbreviations also didn’t help. Especially at the beginning, I had to look up everything. The only one I’m likely to remember is IED, since that showed up in almost every story. I’d still recommend it though, and at the very least, I think it’s a much needed book for veterans.