Words After War Policy Writing Fellow, David Eisler, reflects on why he writes and on the importance of bridging the military-civilian divide through writing.
My first experience with writing regularly started during my deployment to Iraq in 2008. I was young, inexperienced and following in the footsteps of so many others who had written about their time in combat. I kept a handwritten journal for personal thoughts, as well as a public blog where I wrote for family and friends. At the time, I didn’t think too much about the words themselves, but instead used the writing as a chance to escape from the daily routine.
I ended up writing far more than I’d ever anticipated, and then continued the process during my second deployment to Afghanistan. When I eventually left the Army, I had two journals collecting dust on my shelf and an online blog that served as a nostalgic reminder of my time at war. It took a long time before I was able to read it all from start to finish.
When I finally did look at it, I soon realized I wanted to transform it from simple journal entries and blog posts into a more polished product, transform it from words during war into words after war. I didn’t necessarily feel the need to tell my story, but rather use it as a medium to help bridge a psychological gap between those who have been there and those who haven’t. For me, it’s not necessarily a war diary, but the mostly coherent thoughts of a guy in a warzone. And yes, I believe there is a difference.
Putting that collection together has rekindled my interest in writing. I no longer write as a way of coming to terms with my own experiences, but rather I write to tell a much larger story, or maybe even to influence the national conversation in a meaningful way.
As veterans, we have a tendency to lament the state of the national conversation about those who have served. We sometimes rationalize our complaints by telling ourselves that “civilians don’t understand,” or other times we wonder about the disappearing social contract and fading culture of shared national responsibility.
But it’s up to us, as veterans, to take the initiative and bridge that divide, to reach out to those who might not see the common humanity that we all share. It’s up to us to reach out to those who might not see how veterans have much to offer in the way of knowledge and experience. When we block civilians from our conversations, we are only reinforcing tired stereotypes.
By coming together in a creative environment, such as a writing workshop, where we can find common ground through narrative and character development, we are closing the gap between all of us, both vet and civilian. We are letting go of tired stereotypes – one story at a time.