Is there any good way to communicate with a veteran?
War is both personified and exposed in Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds. The novel, a first for the veteran United States Army machine gunner, is a personal account of Private John Bartle’s experiences before, during, and after his deployment to the anagrammatic city of Al Tafar, Iraq. Bartle’s raw, powerful narration is the driving force behind a story which brilliantly illustrates the consequences of combat.
If war has proven itself to be such a devastating affliction, why do its soldiers, officers, and medics feel so compelled to participate? Readers will learn that, for Bartle and 18-year-old Private Murphy, it is the lure of joining a cause far larger than one’s hometown which gives birth to this enigmatic compulsion. For others, the will may stem from a strong desire for comradery or, quite simply, the generous benefits package granted to those who serve.
Regardless of individual motive, the men and women who don the American uniform share a shocking knowledge of the unforgiving creature called war that, once acquired, may never be erased. As evidenced by Bartle’s enormous promise to a woman in need and clear psychological transition from small-town young adult to gun-toting Private, war takes from those who face it and, in return, gives them routines and vivid memories which last long after their homecomings. Is there any good way to communicate with a veteran? The better question may just involve determining exactly what it is that ‘good’ means.