Phil Klay

Phil Klay
Phil Klay
  • Born:
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Writer

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A great writer is a great writer... Tolstoy was not a woman, but 'Anna Karenina' is still a pretty good book.
A lot of the great pieces of journalism from Iraq showed how important command influence was in violent, aggressive environments, where Marines and soldiers had a constrained set of choices to make in sudden moments.
A lot of times, you're interacting with people for whom you're one of the very few veterans that they've met or had a lot of interactions with, and there's a temptation for you to feel like you can pontificate about what the experience was or what it meant, and that leads to a lot of nonsense.
After the fighting is done, and even when it's still happening, apologies are often needed for the recounting of bare facts. Sometimes bare facts feel unpatriotic.
At least for me, writing a book is continual exposure to blind spots. There were things I wanted to be true and wanted to believe, but it always got more complicated in the fiction.
Bombs do very, very bad things to human bodies. It's incredibly shocking to see.
Certainly, my exposure in high school to writers like Flannery O'Connor, Shusaku Endo, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Graham Greene was formative.
Certainly, when I'd left Iraq back in 2008, I'd been proud of my service, but whether we'd been successful or not was still an open question.
Even if torture works, what is the point of 'defending' America using a tactic that is a fundamental violation of what America ought to mean?
Fiction is the best way I know how to think something through.
For me, leaving the Marine Corps was more disorienting than returning home.
Going to war is a rare experience in American culture, so it's easy for simple notions to gain a lot of weight. The reality is always more complex. War & Peace
I always wrote - not about war, necessarily, but I always wrote stories. I tried to write while I was in Iraq. It's not really - I didn't do a very good job, and not about war. War & Peace
I did try to write in Iraq, and I failed. I think you just don't have the brain space for it.
I didn't want to write a 'this is how it is' Iraq book, because the Iraq War is an intensely complicated variety of things. War & Peace
I don't believe in any Greatest Generation. I believe in great events. They sweep ordinary people up, expose them to extremes of human behavior and unimaginable tests of integrity and courage, and then deposit them back on the home front.
I don't want to act as though my deployment was particularly rough, because it wasn't. I had a very mild deployment; I was a staff officer.
I doubt there's anything you could say to Donald Rumsfeld that would puncture the armor of his narcissism.
I ended up going to Dartmouth, and I did Marine Officer Candidate School during my junior summer.
I got to travel around Anbar Province, had a great group of Marines who worked for me who traveled around Anbar Province. I got to hang out with a lot of different types of Marines and soldiers and sailors. Travel
I grew up a little north of New York City and went to high school at Regis, an all-boys tuition-free high school in Manhattan.
I have friends with post-traumatic stress - friends with post-traumatic stress who are, you know, highly successful, capable people.
I have two friends named Matt. They're both scouts in the cavalry. They both served in the same section of Iraq. They both worked with the same Iraqi translator. And yet, if you talk to them, their stories couldn't be more different, because one was there in 2006. One was there in 2008.
I have, for a very long time, been a huge admirer of Marilynne Robinson, whose work I just love. Time ;Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I like the ethos of the military and the idea of joining an institution in which, at the very least, everyone who signs up believes in something.
I literally went straight to New York City from Iraq, which was bizarre and complicated. I was walking down Madison Avenue, and it was spring, and people were smartly dressed, and it was so strange because there was no sense that we were at war. It was something to grapple with. War & Peace
I love opera. I love jazz, especially Mingus. This makes me sound highbrow. I'm not. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
I never thought anyone would pity me because of my time in the Marine Corps. Time
I saw so many radically different versions of Iraq. It would have been difficult for me to come back and think, 'This is the Iraq experience.'
I started with things that I was troubled by or confused by or interested in, and then I wrote stories to try to puzzle my way through it. But the question is not how to represent war, because it's an abstract thing that's felt differently for all the characters. War & Peace
I suppose it is the lot of soldiers and Marines to be objectified according to the politics of the day and the mood of the American people about their war. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising ;War & Peace
I think that just because you've been through an experience doesn't make you the ultimate arbiter of what it means. We figure things out; we work things out through the help of other people who can engage with us but also be intelligently critical. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I was a public affairs officer. I worked with the media, but I didn't just stay at my desk. I assisted in military duties, travelled around Anbar province, hung out with a wide variety of Marines.
I was studying with Peter Carey, Colum McCann; but also, my fellow students were really critical readers for me.
I went straight from the Marine Corps to the MFA. The way that you would express things among Marines is somewhat different than the way you're supposed to express things in a creative-writing workshop.
I write in coffee shops, libraries, parks, museums. I get antsy and then get on my bike and go someplace else, letting the ideas spin around in my head as I dodge taxis.
I'd been in college studying English creative writing and history when I made the decision to join the Marines in the runup to the Iraq war. History ;War & Peace
If we fetishize trauma as incommunicable, then survivors are trapped - unable to feel truly known by their nonmilitary friends and family. Families, Children & Parenting
If you write a novel where war is nothing but hell and no one experiences excitement or cracks a dark joke, then you're not actually admitting the full experience. War & Peace
If you're going to write about war, the ugly side is inevitable. Suffering and death are obviously part of war. Death ;War & Peace
I'm generally not a fan of didactic art because it papers over many of the hard experiences about war or anything else in life. I wanted to explore various aspects of the experience without an eye towards delivering any particular message. Life ;War & Peace ;Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
I'm not anti-war. I served in a war, and I served proudly. But just or not, necessary or not, war is the industrial-scale slaughter of other humans. War & Peace
In a strange way, you have to have a certain amount of distance from a thing in order to be able to write about it.
In State of the Union addresses, I always look at the foreign policy and military parts first, which are generally pretty minimal.
In the Marine Corps, you meet this really broad segment of the country; you're working with people from all kinds of backgrounds. And it exposes you to the American military, particularly the American military at war. War & Peace
In war, it feels like everything you're doing is more important because you're in the proximity of violence and death, and that proximity changes your relationship to America because it changes the way you see the world. Death ;War & Peace
It's a professional military. You sign up and agree to allow your countrymen to use your life as they see fit for the next four years. And I think we all should have a greater role in ensuring that we use those lives wisely. Life
It's easier to get people to talk to you if you're a vet and you want to interview a vet about war. Sometimes they open up a little bit easier. War & Peace
It's not a problem to be surrounded by other writers if that's the craft that you're doing. I suppose if you get obsessed with the notion of being a writer more than the writing itself, that would be bad. But I live near really smart, thoughtful people who take writing very seriously, and I can meet them for breakfast and talk books.
It's often difficult to get perspective on your own stories, on your own experiences, without talking them through with someone who is genuinely interested in thinking about them. And that's the key.
It's very strange getting out of the military, when you've lived in Iraq, and people you know are going overseas again and again. Some of them are getting injured.
I've been asked what differentiates war literature as a category, and I don't think there is anything. War & Peace
I've certainly thought a lot more about things like tyranny and patriotism and violence. I think I found some kind of clarity - definitely a thicker understanding. Citizenship & Patriotism
Less than 1 percent of American have served in 12 years of war, and serious public conversation about military policy is sorely lacking. War & Peace
Marines and soldiers don't issue themselves orders; they don't send themselves overseas. United States citizens elect the leaders who send us overseas.
Oftentimes, discussion of war gets flattened to a discussion of trauma. War & Peace
One of the things that's difficult for people to understand is when you join the military, you don't sign up as an endorsement of any particular policy of the moment.
One thing I've always liked about the military is there's a certain amount of pragmatism.
People have a very political way of looking at war, and that's understandable. War & Peace
People lie to themselves all the time about what they've been through and what it means - I'm no exception. But you write those lies down - lies that really matter to you and that are really painful to let go of because they've become a part of who you are - and they don't work. Time ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
People should be able to tell stories that are important to them to try and understand what they mean. I don't think you figure anything out on your own. Certainly not war stories. War & Peace
Pity addresses the perceived suffering, not the whole individual.
Pity sidesteps complexity in favor of narratives that we're comfortable with, reducing the nuances of a person's experience to a sound bite.
Political novels are full of pitfalls, particularly for a novelist with strong political leanings.
Prayer in a combat zone serves exactly the same purpose as it does in peacetime. In war, the stakes are life and death, true; but if you believe in God and in the notion of a human soul, then we are always making decisions of tremendous significance. Life ;Death ;War & Peace
'Redeployment' is a military term. It means to transfer a unit from one area to another.
Resilience is, of course, necessary for a warrior. But a lack of empathy isn't.
Responsibility and accountability is a big part of being in the military.
Sometimes macho language is to mask things people are not ready to deal with.
Supposedly, going to war initiates you into this gnostic priesthood of people who've had a liminal experience forever separating them from civilians. Except... you go there, and it is what it is. A form of human activity as varied as any other. War & Peace
The civilian wants to respect what the veteran has gone through. The veteran wants to protect memories that are painful and sacred to him from outside judgment. Respect
The Cold War provided justification for a larger peacetime military, since we were never really at peace, or so the argument went. War & Peace
The First Battle of Fallujah was called off in part because of the intensity of non-U.S. media coverage of civilian casualties from outlets like Al Jazeera.
The Iraq I returned from was, in my mind, a fairly simple place. By which I mean it had little relationship to reality. It's only with time and the help of smart, empathetic friends willing to pull through many serious conversations that I've been able to learn more about what I witnessed. Time
The notion that war forever separates veterans from the rest of mankind has been long embedded in our collective consciousness. War & Peace
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are as much every U.S. citizen's wars as they are the veterans' wars. If we don't assume that civilians have just as much ownership and the moral responsibilities that we have as a nation when we embark on something like that, then we're in a very bad situation.
There's a tendency to look at anybody who joined the military as if they underwrote everything that happened policy-wise. That's not really the case. I have a friend who both protested the Iraq War and joined the military, and ended up serving two deployments in Afghanistan. War & Peace
There's a tradition in war writing that the veteran goes over and sees the truth of war and comes back. And I'm skeptical of that. Truth ;War & Peace
There's a tradition of public service in my family. I'm one of three boys that joined the military. My father was in the Peace Corps. Families, Children & Parenting ;War & Peace
There's a very particular way that the military speaks. There's a lot of profanity and a lot of acronyms.
There's a wide spectrum between a Navy SEAL hero-killer and a traumatized victim, but those are the archetypes - hashed and rehashed in the media, in popular culture, in the minds of people with a lot of preconceived notions but not much else.
There's something odd about working 24/7, being consumed with everything that's happening in Iraq, and then coming back to the country that ordered you over there only to realize that a lot of Americans are not really paying attention.
Though I continue to tell stories about Iraq, I sometimes fear this makes me a fraud. I feel guilty about the sorrow I feel because I know it is manufactured, and I feel guilty about the sorrow I do not feel because it is owed, it is the barest beginnings of what is owed to the fallen.
Treating war as farce is one way soldiers deal with it. War & Peace
War is an arena for the display of courage and virtue. Or war is politics by other means. War is a quasi-mystical experience where you get in touch with the real. There are millions of narratives we impose to try to make sense of war. War & Peace
War is complicated and intense, and it takes time and thoughts to understand what it was. Time ;War & Peace
War is too strange to process alone. War & Peace
We have a tendency to think of war as this quasi-mystical thing, and that interpretation flattens the experience - by using different perspectives, I wanted to open a place for readers to compare and contrast, to make judgments, to engage. War & Peace
We're so used to using military terminology in civilian speech that we forget those terms might mean something very specific.
We're told that when we remember, the same parts of our brain light up as when we experienced the event we're remembering. Your brain lives through it again.
When I first came back from Iraq, I of course found myself thinking a lot about it. Not just my experiences, but those of people I talked to, friends, and colleagues.
When I tell stories about Iraq, the ones people react to are always the stories of violence. This is strange for me.
When I was in Marine training I memorised 'The Waste Land,' which was a significant experience in terms of really breaking apart language and thinking about how the different voices in that poem function.
With fiction, you can take something that bothers you, or that you don't have in clear focus, and you can put it under as much stress as you want. Really get underneath the skin. With nonfiction, you're restricted to what happened.
Writing fiction was a way to take the ideas that troubled me or confused me and put them under pressure.
Writing 'Redeployment' shook me in ways I never expected.
You come back from war, and you have a certain authority to talk about war. War & Peace
You're not supposed to risk your life just for the physical safety of American citizens - you're supposed to risk your life for American ideals as well. Life

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