One evening, a friend of mine named Abed, who worked for a humanitarian aid organization and himself had been a democratic activist in the Syrian revolution, told me he'd met someone in a refugee camp who "he really thought I should meet." He explained that the man's name was Abu Hassar, that he'd fought for al-Qaeda in Iraq, and that he thought the two of us "would really get along."
A few days later, Abu Hassar and I met, two veterans of the Iraq war though we'd fought on opposite sides. Up to that point, the wars had been the defining event of my life. Fighting in them had been like a shadow dance, in which you never see your partner.
Ten years later, on that day in 2013, I wanted to meet my partner, this person who had so defined me. Meeting Abu Hassar was a gamble, because I was betting that my fascination with him would prove equal to his fascination with me.
I never felt angry until I went home on leave.After hours spent with my deeply supportive and loving family, I would sometimes find myself retreating to a secluded spot to stare at the wall and clench various muscles. Perhaps a part of my reaction was that, in my mind, I had no reason to be angry.
As we retreat from over a decade of war, the proliferation of war-themed novels and short stories are coming to the forefront, many of them written by veterans. Such authors empower veterans to reclaim the narrative that previously has been mostly controlled by civilians and journalists throughout the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These personalized, fictional accounts are important as we draw down from the Middle East, because the narrative is already shifting. Whereas veterans were once cast as heroes defending freedom and democracy, now they are pegged as victims ravaged by unpopular wars in hostile and misunderstood environments.