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War Experience and Trauma in American Literature

A Study of American Military Memoirs of «Operation Iraqi Freedom»

Lena-Simone Günther

Walt Whitman wrote: «The real war will never get into the books.» To this day, however, American soldier-authors write about their war and translate traumatic experiences into language accessible to the reader. Veterans of the recent Iraq war do not differ here. Joining the post-draft American military, the selected soldier-authors are thrust into a conflict which soon exceeded governmental, military and public expectations. Focusing on core elements which link the selected military memoirs of Nathaniel Fick, Colby Buzzell, Clint Van Winkle, John Crawford and Matt Gallagher together, this book follows the soldier-authors’ process of soldierization, their loss of innocence, moral responsibility and, finally, coping mechanisms for traumatic experiences sustained in combat.
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Chapter Four. “Experiencing” Operation Iraqi Freedom


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No one will ever understand why Thousands of beautiful healthy young statues must fall Smoke and explosions surround me A flood of hate, it drowns me I cannot live this way. – Brendan James “Hero’s Song”

Chapter Four.   “Experiencing” Operation Iraqi Freedom

Brian Turner published his poetry collection Here Bullet in 2007, three years after his return from Iraq. Belonging to the same Infantry Division as Colby Buzzell, he bore witness to the war-torn country’s violent downward spiral towards a bloody civil war and insurgency. Similar to the selected soldier-authors, Turner does not mince his words choosing, instead, to be brutally direct in his description of his one-year-deployment to Iraq. The poem “What Every Soldier Should Know” (Turner Here Bullet 19–20) functions both as a plea for patience and caution in a soldier’s daily work. Writing retrospectively, the soldier-poet hands out advice to his readers while, simultaneously, criticizing the military management and the conduct of the war. He writes in his poem “What Every Soldier Should Know:”

If you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon, it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you.

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