Elliot Ackerman’s meditative memoir “Places and Names” distills his experiences during and after five active-duty deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines. Since leaving the military, the Silver Star recipient has traveled to Iraq, Syria, and Turkey as a journalist, seeking deeper insight into his own and America’s role in its “forever wars.” He’s also written three successful novels, one a finalist for the National Book Award. Ackerman was the Monitor’s featured speaker at the 2019 Boston Book Festival, where he was interviewed by the Monitor’s West Coast writer, Martin Kuz, himself a journalist who covered the war in Afghanistan.
Below are a few excerpts from the festival event. Listen to the full podcast (below) to get more from Ackerman about what he’s learned from war, peace, and using writing as a way to connect the disconnected.
On why bringing back the draft – and a war tax – may prevent war
"The thing that alarms me the most of this current set of wars and our current security posturing is the lack of engagement from the population. Nothing is asked from us. But I think even more frightening is because war has become so painless for us or seemingly so painless in our psyche. It makes us very susceptible to walking into a major war, sleepwalking into a major war."
On why I write fiction
"If they feel something, a fraction of what I wrote, of what I was feeling when I wrote it, then I have transferred some of my emotions to them. I am human and so I feel this. I show it to you. You are human and you feel some portion of it, too. Thus we are human. Thus we are set the same. In this age, where at every single opportunity we are encouraged to accentuate the ways we are different, I feel that what art does, what good art does, it affirms the way that we are the same. And it is one of the few singular acts of optimism that's left."
On abandoning Kurdish forces in Syria
So when you pull out whole cloth from northern Syria and hand over our partner now for many years in the fight against ISIS to their arch enemy, the Turks, I can't tell you how that decision is going to play out, but it's not going to play out well for the United States. I think, sadly, it's just an incredibly cynical decision.