From Up Close, From Afar
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Today, some thoughtful reflections from a combat veteran, now author, who asks himself: why do I write about war? In doing so, he challenges all of us to think about not only what can be said about War, but what should be said as well. From the blog/information site Medium comes David Ervin’s “Why We Write About War.”
David Ervin is a graduate in history from the University of West Virginia—and in warfare from Operation Iraqi Freedom, courtesy of the United States Army. The author of a memoir about war, Leaving the Wire: An Infantryman’s Iraq, he is currently President of Military Experience & the Arts, Inc., a volunteer organization that, according to its website, has a “primary mission…to work with veterans and their families to publish creative prose, poetry, and artwork.”
In his Medium article, Mr. Ervin reflects on why anyone would wish to remember War long enough and often enough to put it into words that can be read by others. He writes,
Holding our stories in our hands makes them more real and more disturbing than even the grimmest of memories can be. It will, without a doubt, invoke the exact same feelings that one experienced at the time. It hurts all over again. Yet confronting the memories in such a manner allows us a perspective that would otherwise be impossible to glean.
I’d venture to say that most war writers put pen to paper because we must simply do something with these awful memories. We must transform them into something that has a value or meaning outside of being simply bad memories. Writing is a constructive means of externalizing some potent internal emotions, and if engaging in it helps someone along the way of healing, then it’s all that much more meaningful.
Words well said, and ones that combat veterans are heeding in many forums, from creative writing classes in community colleges to the halls of publishers of works like Phil Klay’s National Book Award winner, Redeployment. Great war literature in English didn’t stop with the British World War I poets or Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. It’s being published in books and journals (and even classrooms) all the time.
For some men and women, their “doing what needs to be done” means refusing to let War have the last word. Ervin and Klay both demand that we not let War be unspeakable, that we make imperfect words somehow try to state the imperfect actions of imperfect service members, so that imperfect, yet real lives can be both chronicled and lived, made real not just on a page or a tablet screen, but in the very neurons of readers who dare to take up these writers’ invitations to let the words of War invade them.
Mr. Ervin opens up his article by describing his emotions as he held his published book in his hands, felt the reality of his experiences in the weight of the ink-stamped paper. He’d not only looked for a connection to the world and striven for it, he’d lived it, typing one word after another, backspacing, highlighting, deleting, typing again, again. He and his fellow combat vet writers write to feel alive, to demand that all the rest of us recognize their aliveness, their reality: of what they had, what they lost, what they found, and, as I always say, of what they still have as a result.
And what they still have is worth their writing. Even more, it’s worth our reading.
Thanks, Mr. Ervin. Write on.
Until tomorrow, be well,
To learn more about Military Experience & the Arts