Exploring War Through Fiction: The Truth Doesn’t Say Everything

And why war veterans today are more open about their experiences than veterans of wars past.

By Alain StephensFebruary 13, 2017 11:00 am| ,

Nearly 16 years ago, the United States plunged itself into a new kind of war, a war not against a single target or state, but against an ideology: a war against terror. Since the U.S. government made that declaration, countless U.S. troops have been exposed to war and everything – both good and bad – that it has to offer. One soldier summarized it this way:

“Going to war is the great expedition, a journey that changes the traveler in ways that could not have been imagined. Travel is broadening, they say, and so it is. In this case, it’s deepening, too, and wounding and painful, also breathtaking and expanding. Who can say how the soul will react?”

That is an excerpt from “The Road Ahead: Stories from the Forever War”. It’s a fiction anthology of war, written mainly by those who served overseas. Twenty-four authors contributed stories to the book, five of which were women.

Alex Horton, San Antonio-based reporter for Stars and Stripes and former army infantryman, and Brandon Caro, Austin-based writer and former navy corpsman, also have stories in the book.

With so many non-fiction accounts of modern warfare, Horton says a question he gets a lot is why the book’s authors took a fictional angle to discussion the trials and tribulations of war.

“Sometimes the truth doesn’t say everything we want,” Horton says. “Certain allegories, certain stories and certain themes need to emerge from it for anyone to learn and sometimes that’s just not enough.”

On why Horton and Caro wrote their stories:

Horton: “I don’t see writing as quite as therapeutic or to reshuffle all the experiences I’ve had. I don’t think that’s what I use it for. At the same time, I think that there’s a lot of unanswered questions and perspectives that are not seen. We’ve been at war for over 15 years now, but there’s still a general feeling among the public of ‘What was that? … What was done on behalf of our country?’”

Caro: “These wars have been fought by a very very small segment of the population. By and large, most people – or many many people – have no connection, no actual connection to this war and it’s completely in the abstract.”

On the openness of war veterans today version the tight-lipped veterans of the past:

Caro: “I think our society has opened up since the World War II era and has become perhaps more open and more receptive. … I feel as though men from World War II – and I actually know a Korean War veteran – they were a bit more stoic and society really demanded that of them at the time, so perhaps this more willingness to speak openly and frankly is the result of our society changing.”

Horton: “You just look at our generation, where the Facebook, the Twitter, the pouring your heart out online … maybe some of it is oversharing, but I think our society is more attuned to what do individuals think. Not just the collective American Spirit.”

On the public’s perception of the War on Terror:

Caro: “The average citizen doesn’t really understand what’s going on. So I think our experience is characterized by a real disconnect from the actual fighting on the part of the population.”

Horton: “The wars are embedded in the consciousness of Americans insofar as it is something that’s there but almost invisible. You forgot that it’s even happening. … It’s that ambient noise that shows through in certain places. … I think there’s a reluctance and an exhaustion on part of the American people to really wrap their heads around it.”

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.