The debut novel by Silver Star recipient Elliot Ackerman might be one of the first works of fiction about the Afghan war to be published by a veteran who fought in it — but he expects more will follow.
Ackerman, who left the Corps as a captain after serving as a team leader with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, had a unique view of the war in Afghanistan. He advised an Afghan commando unit whose troops would become some of his closest colleagues.
His novel "Green on Blue," published Feb. 17, is dedicated to two Afghan soldiers he served alongside: Ali and "Big Cheese." The book follows the journey of Aziz, an Afghan youth who finds himself part of a U.S.-organized militia as he seeks vengeance after his brother is wounded in a bomb attack perpetrated by local militants. He grapples with the concept of honor and the revenge needed to reclaim it.
Ackerman predicts an era of literature that delves into the meaning of the post-9/11 conflicts is just beginning.
"These wars have defined the last 10 years in America, and it's been a seminal event of the American experience," he said. "There's a reckoning going on right now in terms of what it all meant. Much of that reckoning is coming out in fiction."
Q. Why did you choose to dedicate this book to two Afghan soldiers?
A. When I came home, my war buddies in many respects weren't these guys I could call, keep up with on Facebook, or go get quarter beers with at the local VFW. I felt a real sense of loss coming back knowing that I would never really have relationships with them again. Writing the book was really a last act of friendship toward them to try to render their world and their war as they knew it. As much as the book is dedicated to Ali and Big Cheese, it's also dedicated to the many other Afghans who were my war buddies.
Q. In the book, the one American character, Mr. Jack, is kind of a sucker who is manipulated by Afghan leaders. Is that how you saw U.S. intervention in the war?
A. If you're there on a seven-month tour, it's incredibly challenging to understand what's going on with the level of nuance that's necessary to really have an effect. Usually the largest component of the problem is something that you're not even seeing as an American. I wanted to convey that Mr. Jack is operating just on the surface, he's never able to get to the deeper truths of what's going on in the lives of these Afghans.
Q. What is the greatest American misunderstanding regarding "green on blue" attacks?
A. Americans often will superimpose our moral values onto the Afghans. And I think there's a lot of moral relativism that's going on here. Oftentimes, when you really started picking at the surface of some action that seemed morally reprehensible to you, there was usually a logic that existed behind it. I tried to pick what would be the worst thing you could think, this green-on-blue attack, then try to peel back all the layers; "OK, why did this happen?" At the end of this novel, [Aziz] is trying to make the morally correct choice.
Q. How do you predict the fiction coming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be different from what came out of Vietnam?
A. The literature that came out of Vietnam was very ironic and elegiac. Much of it was written by soldiers who were drafted to fight. And the thing that you can't deny about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is, at the end of the day ... everybody volunteered. I'm 34; I've got a lot of dead friends. But I kept choosing to go back. I think there's a special kind of sadness that goes along with that choice.
Q. Do you think Americans should have approached Afghanistan differently?
A. I didn't set out to write a political book. I really set out to tell the story of the Afghan war, which is incredibly complex. And it differs from province to province and village to village. I set out to tell that war in miniature, the best that I could. So there's one village; one outpost they're trying to build there; one militia unit; one commander of the unit. And then you see the war through one foot soldier, which is Aziz. I think there are enough elements of his story that it has a universality to it across the war.
By Hope Hodge Seck
Published March 1, 2015