Growing up in the post-9/11 world meant a heightened sense of fear and awareness of a war away from home. With more than a decade between then and now, much has changed including the faces of tomorrow’s soldiers. The kids that I sat with in my fourth grade classroom when the country was attacked are suiting up and shipping out to military bases with the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force. From the time they enlist until the time they are finished with their military experience, outsiders looking in will not see anything that is not relayed through the media- but these are not the only stories about the war worth sharing.
When we think of the war, chances are we do not think of the living situations, the relationships, and the trauma that are had by the soldiers who are fighting or who have fought. News stories about the war are concerned with who, what, where, why, and how of major incidents. Personal perspectives are rarely news worthy and are generally saved for personal storytelling. In his new book Making War at Fort Hood, MacLeish humanizes the wartime experience and reminds us that a war is not a one dimensional topic. What happened and why are usually what we read about but MacLeish examines the lives of soldiers and why their stories are equally as important.
MacLeish discusses some of the topics that he covers in his forthcoming book in an article for Publishers Weekly titled “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About War.” It is a good overview of what he covers in Making War at Fort Hood and why the are topics worth examining. It is a good place to start before picking up a copy of the book.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About War
The first story in this book is about a soldier I met when I was doing research at and around the US Army’s Fort Hood, in central Texas, in 2008. In the book I call him Dime (the identities of all of my research subject are kept confidential). He was a tank driver who had survived multiple IED strikes and firefights during two tours in Iraq. One bomb attack left him trapped inside his tank for hours while it burned. He narrowly avoided another that hit the tank in front of him, the one his best friend was driving. When Dime and his fellow soldiers went to look for survivors, he told me, his friend’s body was just gone, completely destroyed. When I met Dime he had been diagnosed with severe orthopedic damage and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from the bomb blasts, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder. He had been transferred into a medical hold company while his complex and debilitating injuries were evaluated and treated, and his days were filled with tests, briefings and doctor’s appointments. Dime clearly took pleasure in being a soldier and cared deeply about his comrades. But he also felt frustrated and bullied. He was grieving, in pain, disoriented from his head injury, numbed and sedated by a shifting regime of drugs, and lonely—he had lost friends in the war, and his wife left him during his first deployment and took their kids. He was angrily and anxiously waiting for the Army to decide what was wrong with him and when to let him go and to see what happened after that.
Most of the war stories that civilians are familiar with hinge on what war is about—why we are fighting, whether we are winning or losing, whether we should have gone to war in the first place. Or they heap those who fight with sentiment and cliché and try to take some virtue from that. In all such stories, the violence of war and the actual work of making it appear as the exception rather than the rule. All the harm that comes with war is cast as tragedy or side effect, something that should not have happened. And the stories wrap these unfortunate events up with a beginning, a middle, and most importantly, an end.