Roy Scranton: Why Fiction Tells the Truth About War

tags: Wall Street Journal, war, Roy Scranton



Roy Scranton, an Iraq veteran, was an artilleryman in the Army. He is co-editor, with Matt Gallagher, of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.

This week we look back and think about what it meant that we invaded Iraq ten years ago. What kind of story do we tell? What’s our narrative? It’s not an easy question, but it’s an important one, because the stories we tell about how we got where we were turn into stories about where we’re going.

Some might think this is a job strictly for history. Since 9/11, if not before, people have talked about reality outstripping fiction, as if fiction can’t keep pace with events. More, we’re all tired of government duplicity, overblown product claims, scripted reality shows, and faked memoirs. When someone tells us they’ve made something up, we’re apt to feel what David Shields called “reality hunger”: Don’t sell me the well-crafted fake, buddy, give me the real deal.

I’ve encountered something like this in talking to people about the anthology of short fiction by recent veterans (and one military spouse) that I’ve edited, “Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.” “Why fiction?” people ask, and sometimes they mean “Why write fiction about these contentious events that have yet to be fully understood?” Other times, they mean “Why write fiction at all? Why not just tell the truth?”...




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