Phil Klay looked up at the night sky while he was deployed to the Anbar province in Iraq as a marine Corps public affairs officer. He had received a letter from his great aunts saying there would be a lunar eclipse that evening and that the Middle East would be a great place to view it. “Now, if you’ve seen a lunar eclipse, you know the moon darkens,” he says. “Mine turned the color of blood.”
In his Got Your 6 Storytellers talk, Klay explains how he lied when he called his aunties later that evening and agreed with them that the eclipse was beautiful. He locked his reaction about the eclipse away, along with the bloody scenes he saw after suicide truck bombings.
As his deployment continued, Klay kept busy — partly as a way to cope.
“I was no hero,” he says, referencing the military doctors who inspired him. “But at the very bare minimum I could be admirably stoic, joining the long lines of Marines and soldiers unwilling to share the burden of the terrible things that they’ve seen.”
When Klay returned from Iraq in 2008, he realized the American people did not seem to be paying all that much attention to the war. His anger compelled him to confront all that he had covered up. And he did so through the power of the story.
“I wanted civilians to feel about the war the way that I did. But I didn’t want to have the responsibility of telling them why they should,” he says. “And it occurred to me that perhaps the stories that I was afraid to tell were exactly the ones that I should be telling.”
Watch the video for more on why Klay, who won the National Book Award last month for his collection of short stories, “Redeployment,” became a writer.