Out of the Frying Pan, Into The Fire

Redeployment - Phil Klay

If you ever wanted proof that war doesn't make sense, here it is.


Phil Klay's short stories from the trenches of the Iraq war show that no matter how you look at it, war is hell.


He's been there, so he knows, but this isn't only Klay's story. Drawn from his own experience and interviews with others, these stories take a variety of perspectives. We hear from new recruits, eager boot camp graduates, stunned soldiers in their first firefight, old hands numb to the violence, chaplains trying to make a difference, and many more. Klay shows us what a soldier sees, both in combat and after the unsettling return to "normal" at home.


Strongest when transcribing straight from a soldier's mind, Klay captures the combination of heightened awareness and psychological numbing that gets the men through the day. I was especially struck by the endless stream of acronyms that let the men talk about people, places, and actions without ever using a specific name or description. It's all initials. I heard shades of Orwell in this language that serves to distance men from their actions.


Klay uses the first person throughout, and his own voice permeates most of the stories, making some of them less distinctive than they might be. A few stories run together in such a way that you may not immediately realize that the perspectives have changed. It's a surreal effect, and while confusing at times, also captures the underlying message that all of these stories are, at heart, about the same thing: disillusionment and the attempt to make sense of some of the most powerful experiences a human being can go through.