America is often reminded by its elected leaders and government officials that War is Hell. This is not offered as a condemnation of the act, but as a valorized supporting argument: war’s totally bad but we do the totally bad thing because the alternative is way, way worse—trust us!—and it’s not like we want to do all the messy stuff that comes with war, we kinda have to, shrug. And it seems like every few weeks Americans are reminded—by way of violence on another continent or a report on our fleet of flying death robots—just how bad war is, while our leaders bluster about more more more war to the world.
It’s my generation’s great shame. As someone who studied history, I’m hesitant to cliche it up and say that history will not justify our carelessness and our cruelty and our killing—but what the hell, man, it’s true. We’re not coming out of this looking good.
In his gutpunch of a debut, The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers doesn’t let your mind stray far from that shame for a moment. The story of two friends—Privates Bartle and Murphy—is not only a striking and seemingly flawless first novel but also a brutally and importantly honest account of America’s “shitty little war” in Iraq. Continue reading