I have no metaphor or clever comparison to help my own, or anybody else’s, understanding of what it’s like to to be in the military and be deployed. I’m lucky enough to have zero comprehension of what that fear and danger is. In this case ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the horrors that we’re sending others to experience so we don’t have to. I’d rather try to learn as much as I can about this very specific experience and let a little fear and knowledge enter my life, than have a mouthful of sand and a head full of nothing. Redeployment by Phil Klay is a collection of short stories that work towards understanding of the completely unfathomable experience of being on the front lines of the war in Iraq, coming home, and trying to make sense of the experience.
Redeployment felt unique in that in the twelve separate stories from the perspective of people serving in Iraq, or back in the US after serving in Iraq, there was no hint of political leanings or opinions about whether or not they should be there. The focus was on the individual experience. Any discussion about whether or not they should be in Iraq wasn’t from a government and policy perspective, it was from a personal, day to day hopelessness and helplessness perspective. It didn’t seem like Phil Klay was using these narratives to get his own point across. Instead, he was using the stories for my absolute favorite reason to use a story, to show a new perspective.
The perspectives shown in this book are not particularly heartwarming. Quite the opposite, in fact. The characters reflection on what they are doing and what they’ve done is straight forward. The direct way of relaying some of the most terrifying and scarring aspects of their deployment lends more weight to the experience. When fear becomes mundane and checking surrounding buildings for people that if you don’t kill will kill you is habit, flowery language is gaudy and fake. The narrators figure out how to deal with this expectation of horror on a daily basis and then go home and figure out how to deal people that can’t possibly understand what happened.
The language is, at times, hard to follow for someone like myself that has very little (i.e. essentially none) knowledge about the military. Though, this is part of what makes the narrations more believable. The stories are not dumbed down and they’re not softened. To read them is to attempt an understanding of people at their most vulnerable, brave, confused, helpless, and brutal. They are stories of war so to expect anything less than chaos, fear and disappointment in human behavior would be foolish. It is important to remember, however, that there is always value in coming closer to understanding the unfathomable. Especially when the unfathomable is what will bring us closer to empathizing with those that were sent to Iraq and still suffer because of their time there.