You might remember Phil Clay from his award-winning book “Redeployment.” He returns to the battlefield with a book of essays that congeal to reveal a far wider perspective than life in the trenches. The before, during and after. The politics and the assessment that happens when we look back on poignant, traumatic moments in life. Clay has an effortless style which is on display once again in “Uncertain Ground.”
Clay is a former Marine who writes, someone who did not lead troops in combat and did not see front line action outside of being mortared, which for someone like me feels a lot like the “actual” combat we associate with war even when describing folks in a supporting role. And supporting roles bring many of the same post-war ills we have come to finally recognize.
Did you even know we were still at war? Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Syria and 145 other countries. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Last year we sent Special Operations troops to 149 countries. And let us not forget Afghanistan and Iraq, places we prematurely declared victory a decade before the withdrawal began.
My personal feeling is that humans war. We find the will, we find the way, and we find the spoils too much to ignore. And as Americans, we do it as well as anyone, ever, in the history of our species. (The first murderer in the US came on the Mayflower.) Forever wars have become commonplace. We are isolated, protected by seas and friendly neighbors. Detached and shopping, mostly.
I have many a friend who sees a book like this and says “Oh, I don’t want to read anything sad,” while on their way to more hours and days on Instagram, flipping through endless vapidity in an attempt to ignore the actual world around them. I can’t do that. I want to know. I want to factor it in. I want to feel something. Get it, read it.