April 7, 2013

Review #16: Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher

"We are drawn to war because we are, in the words of William Faulkner, drawn to the "human heart in conflict with itself." - Colum McCann, who wrote the foreword

Fire and Forget is not just a collection of short stories, nor is it just a bunch of old war stories, recounted for our collective "oohs" and "ahhs".  No, Fire and Forget is a collection of poignancy, fear, despair, courage, bitterness, confusion, self-awareness, loss of self-awareness, triumph, disappointment, and, most of all, heart.

Each of these stories are written by the ones who were there. Contributors include an active-duty journalist, an army spouse, a Senior Fellow at the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, infantry officer, a female sergeant in the Marine Corps who worked a heavy machine gunner on convoys, an artilleryman, an Army Ranger, Special Forces officer, a tank gunner, an infantry platoon leader, a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, just to name some.  These men and women know exactly what they are talking about because they lived through some of these experiences- fictionalized accounts or not.  

"No matter what we do next, the soft tension of the trigger pull is something we'll carry with us forever.  We've assembled Fire and Forget to tell you, because we had to---remember." -The Editors

You will giggle, but you will mostly cry and become enraged and question everything.  This is what makes this such a profound and haunting group of stories.   Just take a glimpse at some quotes from the stories:

photo via The Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk)

"The strangest thing about watching people burn to death inside a vehicle is the fact that you don't have much choice about it.  Once the fuel and the tires catch and it's hot enough, and it's full of things that explode, there's nothing to be done.  You just have to watch." -Andrew Slater

"It's tough to make a direct connection between what you're doing right now and the peace and prosperity of your hometown of Riverside, but that's no surprise because global security is all about action that's collective as well as synergistic, as far as you understand it." -Gavin Ford Kovite

"The whole thing was nightmarishly helpless, but there it was, our bodies transformed in a flash I could not remember. The only thing to do now was deal with it." -Brian Van Reet 

"But after I had been home a few weeks, I just felt the whole world slowing to a crawl. I had a couple of nights where I thought, what the hell, you know? Like if I do it one more time then I'll be able to work things out, and when I get back then I'll be back for good.  I figured that whatever I wanted to do would be here, but the war could end and it still needed me." -Jacob Siegel

I recommend this collection to anyone who wants to understand what it is like in war, especially for those whose lives have been touched by someone in the military.  It helped me to understand my boyfriend, who is a Gulf War vet and a retired Master Sergeant of 18 years in the AF Pararescue.  I could understand why he does things a certain way, his flashbacks, the reason he is generally a very private person.  Just a lot of things made sense to me.  There are many stories he has told me, but even more he can never share.  It always helps to find broader perspectives on things.  

These short stories gave me that perspective and I am grateful, as I am grateful to John and every other man and woman who has fought for our country and who come home to find their lives forever altered and the government barely caring as much as  they care about homeless people (many of which are veterans, too, I might add.), which as you know is very little.  These men and women deserve so much respect for what they have gone through that the rest of us didn't have the guts to do.  Most won't even have the guts to read their stories.

Please consider sending soldiers a care package or donating to or volunteering for the VA


  1. This sounds like an extremely powerful collection of stories.

  2. Thank you for sharing about this-it looks amazing and powerful and necessary.

    1. Those are all perfect words to describe it. I love that you said "necessary" because it is very necessary for us to understand what they go through.

  3. Did you ever read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien? We had to read it in high school and I still think about that book. It's about the Vietnam War.

    1. I don't think I have, though I am not sure because I have almost read it several times. Not sure I ever actually did. I hear it is amazing. Another good one is The Thin Red Line.

  4. So I just went and ordered this book. Thanks for posting about it.


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