Redeployment by Phil Klay

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There’s a perversity in me that, when I talk to conservatives, makes me want to bash the war and, when I talk to liberals, defend it.

The above quotation from the narrator of the short story “Psychological Operations” included in Phil Klay’s National Book Award winning short story collection Redeployment can sum up much of the tone in all of these stories.  Klay, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, gives his military characters the determination to do the jobs they are assigned to do without hesitation. It’s the aftermath, the deeper why’s and why not’s, that constitute the struggles in these stories.

As with most short story collections, some of them are better than others.  Klay deftly uses humor in “After Action Report” as a soldier takes credit for killing the first enemy at the request of the soldier who actually did it. Trying to pretend he is in the head of his buddy, the “imposter” goes through counseling and discussions with a priest in order to honor his friend’s request.

The Marine verteran narrator in “Unless It’s A Sucking Chest Wound” ponders his reasons for going into public service as a lawyer instead of becoming a corporate lawyer in a large firm.  Through flashbacks, his experiences in Iraq weigh in on his decisions as well as those back home who have difficulty understanding what he experienced.

Klay’s accomplishment stems from being able to make his characters’ struggles universal while always keeping the men and women he writes about firmly military. The connection between Marine and civilian makes it’s best appearance when describing the return home of a fallen soldier in the book’s final paragraph:

And as it was unloaded off the bird, the Marines would have stood silent and still, just as we had in Fallujah.  And they would have put it on a C-130 to Kuwait.  And they would have stood silent and still in Kuwait.  And they would have stood silent and still in Germany, and silent and still at Dover Air Force Base.  Everywhere it went, Marines and sailors and soldiers and airmen would have stood at attention as it traveled to the family of the fallen, where the silence, the stillness, would end.

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