The Iraq war started on March 19, 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein’s, the President of Iraq at the time, regime.
Before the war, U.S. and UK governments, claimed that Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to their security and that of their coalition allies. United Nations weapons inspectors found no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
President George W. Bush imposed a deadline for dictator Saddam Hussein to either leave Iraq or start a war. The U.S. first sent out missiles in the Persian Gulf. As soon as America invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein went into hiding. He would communicate with his people by speaking through an audiotape. America was able to overturn his regime and capture some of Iraq’s major cities. President Bush declared the end of combat on May 1, 2003. U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in an eight-foot deep hole, miles outside of Tikrit. Hussein was arrested and began trial for crimes against his people, including mass killings, in October 2005. After Hussein’s arrest A new constitution for the country was ratified. Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to execution, although no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. The war officially ended years later, on December 25, 2011 when the U.S. formally declared the end of the war in a ceremony in Baghdad.
Redeployment by Phil Klay is a collection of short stories of different soldier accounts of their experience in and after the Iraq War. The book contains a lot of vivid detail, whether it’s describing a dead body, or the different locations soldiers had to go to. “It was a story about the worst burn case we ever had. Worst not in charring or loss of body parts, just worst. This Marine had made it out of his vehicle only to die in flames beside it. The other MPs from his unit had taken his his remains from the pile of trash and gravel where he died and brought him to us.” (pg 70) This is just a taste of how descriptive and specific Klay is when telling the different stories. Klay spares readers no detail. This makes the short stories easily to connect to and feel for these narrators. “We shot dogs,” is how the first chapter opens. “Not by accident. We did it on purpose and we called it Operation Scooby,” says one of the first-person narrators as he remembers his deployment. In this first chapter, perhaps the strongest of the stories, the soldier is returning home and trying to reintegrate into American society, but not really knowing how to. “When I got to the window and handed in my rifle, 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.”
Not only does a returning soldier not know where to rest his hands, he has trouble resting his mind. “The problem is, your thoughts don’t come out in any kind of straight order. . . You try to think about home, then you’re in the torture house. You see the body parts in the locker and the retarded guy in the cage.” Soldiers recall strange emotions. “Midway through the deployment guys started swearing they could feel spirits everywhere. Not just around the bodies, and not just Marine dead. Sunni dead, Shi’a dead. Kurd dead. Christian dead . . .” Klay doesn’t leave you on the battlefield. You come home with soldiers and civilians to pick up the pieces of war after long periods of rehabilitation at home. “They had to move muscles around and sew them together to cover exposed bone, clean out dead tissue, and seal it with grafts. They take, well, what’s basically a cheese grater to some of your healthy skin and reattach it where it’s needed.” The strongest parts of the collection are when Klay conveys the attitudes, feelings and words of those soldiers, rather than the more creative writing aspect, like characterizing non-soldiers or describing scenes.
For instance, in, “Psychological Operations,” Zara Davies is the cliche characterization of an anti-war college student. She’s converted to Islam and she makes such proclamations as, “It doesn’t matter what the pawns on a chessboard think about how and why they’re being played.” The whole dynamic between Zara and Waguih feels forced, something out of a Lifetime movie, “I’ll push your buttons, you push mine; the crucible of friendship and/or love is born.” Fortunately, we have other sections, like “Prayer in a Furnace,” to show off Klay’s skill. . In the entire book, there’s maybe two instances of actual combat. Descriptions of gunfire and engagements are less important to the book than the emotional impact they have. Most of the narrative is spent in the men’s heads.
Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq as a Public Affairs Officer, not seeing much action, but certainly hearing stories from fellow soldiers. After being discharged in 2011, he received an MFA in creative writing from Hunter College in New York City. Redeployment received many awards and recognition including: Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s James Webb award, the National Book Critics’ Circle John Leonard Award, the American Library Association’s W. Y. Boyd Literary Award, the Chautauqua Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Writing. On Klay’s website is a Question and Answer section that has many questions about Klay and his writing that he has answered.
As you were writing these stories did you always see yourself heading toward an entire collection of war stories, as this is, or did that happen later? “The first sentence I wrote was the first sentence of the book: “We shot dogs.” I didn’t know where I was heading, exactly, but I had a voice and a set of experiences I wanted to write about. Not personal experiences—just things people I had known had gone through that stayed in my mind. And not all of those fit into one story, or one perspective. I found that, to get at the different aspects of Iraq I wanted to explore, I had to approach from all these different angles.”
One of the book’s strengths is the many different kinds of soldiers you write about, from lance corporals to officers, from foreign service officers to chaplains, from young to old.
That was very intentional. The narrators of my stories interpret what they’ve been through in different ways. They go through radically different experiences and make very different choices. I wanted them to argue against each other and so open a place for the reader to enter in and engage. I don’t necessarily think that the person who has been through an experience gets to be the ultimate arbiter of what that experience means.
But none of the stories are from an Iraqi perspective. Why not?
There are Iraqi characters in the book, and the relation of the various characters to the Iraqi people comes up in many of the stories, but I had a fairly specific intent with the collection and so a specific frame I was working within. I also wasn’t sure how I could have a lone Iraqi voice without having that seem to try to represent some unified Iraqi perspective, which was exactly the thing I was trying to avoid when talking about Marines.
The book accurately describes how soldiers felt and dealt with war and the aftermath of war. Klay’s focus is always on his characters. There are no long views of Iraqi deserts or rivers or cloud-filled skies here, though he does get all the little details right: the way the skin slides off a corpse when carried in a body bag, how the lingering smell of roasted flesh turns many veterans into vegetarians. As one Marine notes, “the hippie chicks in Billyburg sometimes think I’m like them, which I’m not.” A study conducted by Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and Tulane University stated that returning soldiers from the Iraq war were likely to show lapses in memory and a decrease in the ability to focus. “…I didn’t remember them. I’d seen all sorts of people around, eyes out of windows. But I hadn’t focused in… I definitely didn’t remember that. I thought maybe Timhead imagined it.” (pg 48) This section was in the chapter “After Action Report” when the narrator was trying to remember an event that happened a couple weeks in advanced. This example provides evidence to the study.
Overall, this book of short stories conveyed how war effected not only soldiers, but the people who were around it 24/7. Author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain said “If you want to know the real cost of war for those who do the fighting, read Redeployment. These stories say it all, with an eloquence and rare humanity that will simultaneously break your heart and give you reasons to hope” Everyone should read this, even if they don’t know anything about war or even interested in it. This book will open eyes of many people, by giving people a vivid description of how soldiers dealt and deal with war. Their perspective matters, and Redeployment gives us their perspective.