This book reveals very little about national strategy or defense policy, or even about the effectiveness of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it is a worthwhile read for those interested in the ground-level experience of war and Americans who want to know more about the actions committed overseas in their name.
The experiences of American soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes over and over again, are central to this story, including consideration of the lasting impact of their time abroad. American culture is already rife with conversations about post-traumatic stress, veterans’ services, and treatments following deployments. Unfortunately, the voice of the veterans themselves is seldom heard with clarity in these conversations.
While Jonathan Shay’s connections between Vietnam and Homer’s literature of war are one way of exploring the perennial risk of psychological injuries in war, the history of another country’s wars and experiences might offer a promising avenue of approach. Canadian historian Adam Montgomery’s book should thus be of interest to a wider audience than its subtitle alone might suggest. While students of Canadian military history will welcome it as a concise history of psychological injury and treatment in Canada’s wars since 1914, Montgomery usefully broadens the scope of the discussion. American readers, understandably preoccupied with the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, will find the treatment of an allied and culturally similar military illuminating. Montgomery’s findings point to the startling ubiquity of psychological injuries in military operations of all types.
Retire the Colors is a reference to the command given at the end of a service or ceremony directing the color guard to retrieve the national and unit colors and remove them from the ceremony. Rendering honors and retiring the colors marks the official end of the ceremony, and frequently, the transition to the informal social activities afterward. The reference is appropriate for this anthology of stories dealing with transition between military service and the civilian world.
We are locked in with Jake; we know his thoughts and feelings, or at least we know as much as Hemingway lets us know. Jake's inability to connect with those around him is as emotional as it is physical, and the first-person narrative allows the reader to experience some measure of that isolation. Fitz, however, is not alone in his head with the reader. His failing connections with those around him are not completely severed lifelines. The third-person omniscient perspective allows Morgan to explore not just Fitz's feelings but how his injuries affect those around him, those trying to help him, and those who depend on him. The shift in perspective from one to the other underscores a shift in our own perspective on the injuries of war since Hemingway's own experience: no one should have to travel the road alone.
After a few seconds, my driver and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. The MRAP-ATV (Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected All-Terrain Vehicle, one of those machines ordered by Robert Gates that saved my life and countless others) lay still, angled into a massive hole in the road. The hood had twisted up and over the top of the vehicle and radiator fluid leaked onto my gunner, who crouched beneath the turret in a vain attempt to avoid it. I felt surprisingly calm—it was a relief to finally get blown up—and my shoulders continued to roll with the laughter, the most vivid memory of my life.
This novel shows us all the scars, reminds us of the broken parts within each of us, and the fragile world on which we try to ground ourselves. It is a reminder that whenever we return, we listen for the call of our name, for some hint that we matter, an echo of who we were, always and forever searching for ourselves across the years in a place we’ve lost along the way.