Phil Klay: “Killing a Guy is Not the Same as Having a Coherent Military Policy.”
This Week on the Book Dreams Podcast
How should we, as a country, execute our military power, and what role should we, as citizens, play in military policy? In what ways does our current engagement in modern warfare, as it has evolved during the war on terror, fall short of the ideal, and what’s the impact of that shortfall? What’s the connection between our deep polarization at home and the endless, invisible conflicts we’re mired in overseas? What does the conflict in Ukraine teach us about the power and significance of a clear and meaningful military mission, and about the inevitable tragedy of war?
Phil Klay—a US Marine Corps veteran and the author most recently of the thought-provoking essay collection Uncertain Ground: Citizenship and an Age of Endless, Invisible War—tackles these questions and more with Eve and Julie on this episode of Book Dreams.
From the episode:
Phil Klay: Oftentimes I feel like in modern warfare, we substitute an easy problem for a hard problem. The hard problem is how to create a situation that’s actually better and advances our interests in a really difficult social, political, and military environment. And then the easy problem is, can we kill a bad guy and call it a win? And we can do that. We can kill bad guys all day. We’ve become incredibly efficient at killing guys. We have developed the most sophisticated set of practices and units, and technologies for doing targeted assassinations, that the world has ever seen. Joint Special Operations Command, which is like Rangers, Navy SEALs, all those kind of fancy units.
In 2004, they’re doing about 12 raids a month. By 2006, they’re doing 250. We’re very, very good at it, but we’re not very good about thinking through what happens next, and the what happens next has, in all of these wars, been the most important question.
You know, Barack Obama in his last State of the Union address said, “If you don’t think I’m serious about the war on terror, just ask Osama bin Laden….” Trump did essentially the same thing, heralding the [Qasem] Soleimani strike. But killing a guy is not the same as having a coherent military policy.
Phil Klay is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His first book, Redeployment, is a collection of short stories set in wartime Iraq. It won the National Book Award and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times. His debut novel, Missionaries, also involves the military tactics of U.S. soldiers. It was named as one of the 10 Best Books of 2020 by The Wall Street Journal and chosen by former President Barack Obama as one of his Favorite Books of 2020. Now, Phil has published a collection of essays called Uncertain Ground: Citizenship and an Age of Endless, Invisible War.
Book Dreams uses books to explore topics we can’t stop thinking about. Hosted by Julie Sternberg and Eve Yohalem, Book Dreams releases new episodes every Thursday. Visit our website for more about the show: www.bookdreamspodcast.com.