A Well-Written War, Told in the First Person


By Elisabeth Bumiller New York Times

WASHINGTON — Brian Turner was focused on staying alive, not poetry, when he served as an infantry team leader in Iraq. But he quickly saw that his experience — “a year of complete boredom punctuated by these very intense moments” — lent itself to the tautness of verse.

The result was a collection called “Here, Bullet,” with a title poem inspired by Mr. Turner’s realization during combat patrols that he was bait to lure the enemy.

If a body is what you want,

then here is bone and gristle and flesh,

… because here, Bullet,

here is where the world ends, every time.

“Poetry was the perfect vehicle,” said Mr. Turner, who had a master’s in fine arts from the University of Oregon before joining the Army. “The page was the place where I could think about what had happened.”

Mr. Turner is a literal foot soldier in what might be called the well-written war: a recent outpouring of memoirs, fiction, poetry, blogs and even some readable military reports by combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldier-writers have long produced American literature, from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs about the Civil War to Norman Mailer’s World War II novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” to Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” about Vietnam.

The current group is different. As part of a modern all-volunteer force, they explore the timeless theme of the futility of war — but wars that they for the most part support. The books, many written as rites of passage by members of a highly educated young officer corps, are filled with gore, inept commanders and anguish over men lost in combat, but not questions about the conflicts themselves. “They look at war as an aspect of glory, of finding honor,” said Mr. O’Brien, who was drafted for Vietnam in 1968 out of Macalester College in St. Paul. “It’s almost an old-fashioned, Victorian way of looking at war.”

The writers say one goal is to explain the complexities of the wars — Afghan and Iraqi politics, technology, the counterinsurgency doctrine of protecting local populations rather than just killing bad guys — to a wider audience. Their efforts, embraced by top commanders, have even bled into military reports that stand out for their accessible prose.

Read more at the New York Times

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