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The Hell of War Comes Home - Imaginative Texts from the Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq

The Hell of War Comes Home

Imaginative Texts from the Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq

By Owen W. Gilman Jr.
Paperback : 9781496823342, 264 pages, August 2019
Hardcover : 9781496815767, 264 pages, February 2018

A gauge of powerful film and literature from America's most recent wars


Owen W. Gilman Jr. stresses the US experience of war in the twenty-first century and argues that wherever and whenever there is war, there will be imaginative responses to it, especially the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since the trauma of September 11, the experience of Americans at war has been rendered honestly and fully in a wide range of texts--creative nonfiction and journalism, film, poetry, and fiction. These responses, Gilman contends, have packed a lot of power and measure up even to World War II's literature and film.

Like few other books, Gilman's volume studies these new texts-- among them Kevin Powers's debut novel The Yellow Birds and Phil Klay's short stories Redeployment, along with the films The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. For perspective, Gilman also looks at some touchstones from the Vietnam War. Compared to a few of the big Vietnam books and films, this new material has mostly been read and watched by small audiences and generated less discussion.

Gilman exposes the circumstances in American culture currently preventing literature and film of our recent wars from making a significant impact. He contends that Americans' inclination to demand distraction limits learning from these compelling responses to war in the past decade. According to Gilman, where there should be clarity and depth of knowledge, we instead face misunderstanding and the anguish endured by veterans betrayed by war and our lack of understanding.


"We have been waiting for a thoughtful, meticulous book like Owen Gilman's on the twenty-first-century Desert Wars and American literary and popular-culture memory. For most of us, it seemed too daunting and unbearable to write. Gilman has faced up to the task of examining sustained responses to war and homecoming in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and endless obscenely violent fantasy movies and video games. He covers the whole territory at once, comprehensively--novels, poems, plays, personal narrative, journalism and reportage, movies, material culture--but also with a keen eye for detail and a brave, clear voice. He shows us that it has been somehow even worse for our soldiers here than for the generation of Vietnam. Our latest sons and daughters of the empire have come home from three or four tours in Hell while the nation says, 'Thank you for your service' and escapes into the new and endless spaces of Fantasyland. "

- Philip Beidler, Margaret and William Going Professor of English at the University of Alabama and author of Beautiful War: Studies in a Dreadful Fascination

"The Hell of War Comes Home makes a significant contribution to both American literature and the literature that is emerging from America's ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using material spanning from the American Revolution to our involvement in twenty-first-century conflicts, Owen W. Gilman Jr. aptly demonstrates that for Americans war is an 'ingrained habit' that has not been deterred by earlier wars and their literary responses. Placing the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the cultural and political contexts of both the Vietnam War and the post-Vietnam War era, Gilman provides a groundbreaking study of how American culture prefers to avoid reality by focusing on the superficial and living in Fantasyland instead of actively learning from our wars and contributing to the healing process necessary for the people who fight them. "

- Catherine Calloway, professor of English at Arkansas State University, coeditor of Approaches to Teaching the Works of Tim O'Brien, and regular contributor to American Literary Scholarship, An Annual and the Oxford Online Bibliography series