At its core, Green on Blue: A Novel, is an honest, absurdist take on the war in Afghanistan. But you won’t find that out for quite a bit into the book.*
It is one of the few works of fiction published so far about the war in Afghanistan by an American soldier who served there. In partial resolution of this lack, we get a book from Elliot Ackerman, who’s been there five times now courtesy the U.S. Army.
Ackerman gives us a view into how the United States feeds the vicious, complex circles of Afghan tribal society and conflicts we don’t understand — à la The Ugly American.
Our hero isn’t an American soldier. In fact, the U.S. is mentioned (and indicted) only a handful of times and we only meet (very briefly) one or two American contractors/CIA operatives (it’s unclear). By telling the story from the view of an, essentially, child soldier, we are given a naïve’s view into what’s happening around us — without necessarily a prejudice expressed by the character. This is his first time experiencing these things (war, especially, but also love and brotherhood and responsibility); thus, we, too, are experiencing them for the first time through his eyes. This is one reason the absurdity is so effectively communicated toward the end of the book.
Ackerman describes a society that has forgotten anything but war. It’s a question often posed in war stories: What will you do when the war ends? What happens if you can’t remember what the other options are? And, in cases of generations of warfare: Will our children overcome this? Will they see peace? We aren’t given great hope in this book, which is as it should be. Even those who try to play Switzerland or appeasers are nonetheless caught in the crossfire — socioeconomically, emotionally and physically.
The world isn’t a Lucky Charms bar.
The author has done a very pleasing job with the characters’ dialogue. Some of the best parts of the book are verbal interactions. I found some opening passages to various sections, however, to feel like walking through quicksand. The only way out was through, though, and it paid off every time.
The title, Green on Blue, refers to the phenomenon of U.S.-trained Afghan soldiers killing U.S. soldiers. There was a recent attempt at Kabul International. In his book, Ackerman makes one wonder exactly who is wearing the green and who is wearing the blue at any particular time in these conflicts. And not knowing that has probably been our biggest failure.
I recommend this book.
* I don’t do spoilers and this isn’t a book summary. Go read the book if you want the full story.
Speaking of that Lucky Charms bar, the best story set in Afghanistan written by a soldier who served there is by my friend Tanner. I wish I could share it with you. I had the pleasure of reading and helping him edit it. It is an amazing story — and it ends, surprisingly, with a Lucky Charms bar.