Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay

Nobody knows the feeling of war until they have seen and have been through it. People can make the remarks that they want about what they feel about a particular war, but war is a term that remains ongoing and refers to the fighting of men and women that are just entering adulthood and put themselves on the line for both the safety of their country, but in more unfortunate circumstances, to capitalize a statement made by a leader and their beliefs. Herbert Hoover once said that, "Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die." While the reason for war varies, it is true that the experience of war is always laid upon the feet of those looking for experience. Things would look so much different if wars were fought between the leaders that make these decisions in the first place. Phil Klay's Redeployment is a collection of short stories that was released in 2014 and won the National Book Award. They are all first person accounts of people who fought in the Iraq War and, in many cases, feature men that came into the war feeling like most men their age felt about the experience and ended up being in for something completely different. The stories make an attempt to capture what it is to be someone that has experienced the Iraq War and that it is the little details, not the massive moments that we all view as being the major parts of war, that stay with the soldiers most.


"Redeployment," which is the title story, immediately presents an idea that would be controversial to most people that approach the text, but contains justification in Sergeant Price's case: shooting dogs. Of course, I find this to be quite disturbing on the surface as well. However, in Sgt. Price's case, he is trained to bring down any obstacle that may be in his way of reaching what he needs to do. If the obstacle is a living being that is preventing him from bringing down a dangerous subject, then their only option would be to shoot it. This act, known as "Operation Scooby," hurt Sgt. Price just as much as it would hurt anyone else in his position. In war, however, those in combat develop an instinct that keeps them on their toes at all times, questioning whether or not something dangerous is on the other side and will this obstacle try to annihilate them??? Sgt. Price is finally able to go home to his wife and his own dog, Vicar, who is reaching the end of his life. Vicar has tumors, can barely get around, and has just about lost his appetite. Sgt. Price struggles to adjust to life outside of war, explaining that among a color system, he is at the "orange" level, where his attention is focused on everything around him, but he still has an ability (though it will take time) to move himself downward to the "white" level that most civilians that have not been through war have achieved. Someone on the distant "red" level is one that tends to be permanently in the military life mindset and in many cases spend their life getting help, in or our of a facility. The tragic part of this story is when the time comes to euthanize Vicar and Sgt. Price feels that he needs to take it into his own hands instead of that of the veterinary clinic, which charges money. This decision leads Sgt. Price to believing that there is justification in what he has done in the military, plus an idea that it should be left to HIM to end the life of something that was HIS.

I would say that "Redeployment" was the strongest story in this collection, because it dealt with someone who was presented with a struggle and had to conquer it in the way that someone in his position could. One may think that his mindset was boggled to make such a decision, but only someone that has been in his position can really tell why he did things the way he did them. The other stories in this collection deal with the ideas that stick out in the minds of those who participate in the military and how they can be as simple as the almost standard routine of having cobbler and ice cream on Sundays in the military, just as the subjects in this work look forward to in "Frago." "After Action Report" deals with a speaker named Suba who is asked to take the credit... and burden... of murdering a teenage Hajji, because Timhead does not want to feel as if he is living with the burden of murdering someone who was underage. This story presents us with how it feels to actually kill a civilian and the aftermath of how it feels to take a life.

"Money as a Weapons System" brings into account the idea that there is a strong divide between the leaders that declare war and the fighters that die in them, just as Herbert Hoover mentions. The subject, a fighter named Nathan, is constantly agitated by the fact that leaders make so many of these calls without really knowing what is truly going on. The leaders make steps toward improving affairs with one another by teaching those in the country they plan to rebuild how to play baseball. It starts off a bit ridiculous, but they see success (probably temporary) by the end of the story. This is a country, however, where there is a great divide. There is especially a divide in how women are treated. There is always that question in mind that it is the fighter that is present in the country and how they know more about the citizens of Iraq than the leaders making the calls. A citizen known as "The Professor" mentions that he was actually a professor until the American takeover that began the war. It shows that in invasions like these, it is more than the bad guys that are affected.

"Psychological Operations" is one of those works that feature two stubborn college students. Waguih was of Arab descent, but fought on the American side of the military, while Zara was a student that has set her ways on what she believed and had the attraction to keep Waguih constantly coming back. Waguih entered the military with the same intent that others had, the mixture of boosting his impression and doing his country proud. Zara, on the other hand, believed that soldiers fighting in war were just "pawns on a chessboard" and that they were weapons for those that were governing. Eventually, she converted to Islam, which bothered Waguih. Though Zara reported Waguih for presenting himself inappropriately, he still invited her over to discuss the topic a bit more. This story even goes to the point of exploring the place of one that has fought in the military; the question at hand being whether or not those that fought should be respected for their service or frowned upon for participating in something against one's belief. This sparks an unfair spark for someone that put themselves on the line, just because they wanted to protect their country in any which way they could. This is what a soldier possesses, even if they may have an alternate train of thought regarding why they are in war.

Phil Klay does a nice job creating questions at hand when it comes to what one should think about the Iraq War and its place in society. I felt that this was his strong point. My criticism would be directed toward the nature of the subjects in this work. I have a great level of respect for the men and women that fight for our country for what ever reason they choose to and I feel that while perhaps these characters were just human in the eyes of Klay, there were not many characters that I felt that sense of personal gratitude toward. I have come across veterans in college and there are a good handful of students in the English department that are in relationships or engaged to those in the military. I get a sense that there is something special beyond belief about these men and women as to their emotions about war and life in general. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but the development of characters within the text could have been a bit better. Even if there was something like The Hurt Locker that concentrated on war as being a drug and how the regular life becomes so difficult once one returns home. Perhaps "Redeployment" is the closest we get to that particular struggle.

This collection seems to concentrate on the political end of things, which I feel it does well at addressing. I felt a sense of what war was when I read this work, which when all is said and done a solution that we have just not moved away from. On the other hand, the people that participate are far from being the reason to this decision of not moving away, they are just doing anything and everything they can to give back to their country and for those that they care most for. If there is any message that comes out of this, THAT would be it. This is beginning to get called for Iraq War what The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien has been for Vietnam. I will likely read The Things They Carried very soon when I feel that this would contribute to what I am trying to convey for a senior thesis I am trying to construct.

As for whether or not one should read it? That is a very vague question, because I feel it would need to be your call. It is quite mind boggling and there are stories much stronger than others, but the sensitive, touchy readers would be better off staying away. This is a bowl of nails that need be eaten without milk, but by the end of the collection, you will definitely have a sense of the train of thought about what one will have about being in the Iraq War. Regardless, I will stand by my idea that the ones that know most about being in war are the ones that were actually in war. The ones that know the second most are those who were connected to someone who was actually in war. These are the people that are qualified to make direct judgments.

Verdict: 7/10

If you want to give back to those who have fought for our country, I will leave behind some organizations that help those that were injured and want as to live the best possible life they can live; and they most definitely deserve it. Even if you are unable to give, it is something to learn more about:

Disabled American Veterans:
Wounded Warrior Project:

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