Yes, it takes 20 years to talk about war
I had the occasion recently to review the book Redeployment, by Philip Clay. He’s an Iraq War veteran, out about five years, and he wrote a series of short stories. The first thing I picked up was an undercurrent of anger in the stories.
And I remembered that anger, because I’d had it, too, in the years after I got back from Desert Storm. It wasn’t like the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I didn’t see any direct combat, though I was entirely too near the Patriot missile battery and the front line. Plus, there was the constant fear that Iraq would launch poison gas. It was utter boredom day in and day out, and yet, utter fear because we didn’t know what would happen.
I don’t know … maybe it was different for the World War II vet because they came back on boat. The trip lasted for several weeks or a month and they had time to decompress. I flew back on emergency leave for ten days and was back to work. It was supposed to be business as usual, and yet how could it be?
I couldn’t tell you why I was angry. I couldn’t really point at a specific incident that was the source behind the anger. It was simply there. Maybe it’s because the experience of war is so profound and so unlike anything else that it boils itself into anger. I don’t know.
As a writer, I wanted to get it out and put it on paper, but I couldn’t write about the experience of war in non-fiction (a big no-no while I was in the army), and I couldn’t make the words work for fiction. I revisited it periodically over the years, pondering at first a non-fiction book and later a novel, but I never got past the first few chapters. Every time I tried, I de-evolved back into that anger, and angry writing isn’t fun. the other problem I had was that I was writing about the specific experiences that happened to me, rather than characters who were in the military or were veterans.
It’s only been in the last few years that my brain seems to have rewired itself enough that I see the things that happened to me in a different way. But for some people, even that isn’t enough time. War is an experience unlike anything else.
My final Challenge post will be “A to Z Challenge Posts” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.