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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Iraq War Vet Returns To A Broken Country

Iraqi onlookers gather on July 16, 2014 around a burnt motorcycle at the scene of an explosion that took place the previous night in Sadr City, one of Baghdad's northern Shiite-majority districts. (Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi onlookers gather on July 16, 2014 around a burnt motorcycle at the scene of an explosion that took place the previous night in Sadr City, one of Baghdad’s northern Shiite-majority districts. (Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images)

I first came across the work of Roy Scranton on the “Home Fires” blog on The New York Times website. The blog featured the writing of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roy served in the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. “Home Fires” introduced me to him, and other writers and veterans, such as Brian Turner and Andrew Slater, who we have featured on Here & Now over the years. Today it’s Roy’s turn.

He came home from the war in Iraq and started writing fiction, poetry and essays. He co-edited the collection of short stories called “Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.” His most recent writing is a story called “Back to Baghdad,” which is in Rolling Stone. It’s the subject of his conversation with Jeremy Hobson on Here & Now.

Roy went back to Baghdad in April of this year and didn’t find a pretty picture. It was a time of car bombs and the beginning stages of the advance by ISIS, the Sunni-led militant group we now know as the Islamic State.

“What’s happened over the last year has been the disintegration of the state that we left behind, and it shows the evidence of the truth of what we’d actually done,” he told Jeremy.

“What’s happened over the last year has been the disintegration of the state that we left behind.”
– Roy Scranton

On Monday, police said they had found the bullet-ridden bodies of more than a dozen people in different areas of the capital city. That was a grim reminder of the sectarian bloodshed that engulfed the country in 2006 and 2007. And also a reminder that, as Roy Scranton says, the U.S. should still be paying attention to what is happening in Iraq.

“When we left, we didn’t just erase it,” he said. “When we left Iraq, we remained connected to it.”

Veterans like Roy Scranton certainly are still connected to it, and through the writing he and other vets are doing, we are too. I sent an email to Peter Catapano the other day. Peter’s an editor with The New York Times’ opinion section and he created and edited the “Home Fire” blog. I just wanted to thank him for doing that and for introducing me to the writing of these veterans.

“Working with this group of writers has been the high point for me as an editor,” Peter responded, “something I am most proud of, based strictly on the quality and importance of that work.”

That work continues.

Brian Turner’s memoir “My Life as a Foreign Country” will be published in the fall. You can read Andrew Slater’s work in the Daily Beast and if you pick up Rolling Stone, the issue with Lana Del Ray on the cover, you can find Roy Scranton’s story about returning the country he fought in.

I hope they all keep writing.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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