The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Fiction, Poetry, Memoir, Film, and Photography: A Compendium

Intermediate Staging Base Headquarters, Alexandria/Fort Polk, LA. Photo by Bill Putnam, used by permission.

Intermediate Staging Base Headquarters, Alexandria/Fort Polk, LA. Photo by Bill Putnam, used by permission.

Below I’ve catalogued memoirs, imaginative literature, and big-budget films published or released through the end of 2014 that represent important and interesting takes on America’s twenty-first century wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lists are subjective and idiosyncratic, not complete or authoritative. Still, they might help all interested in the subject to more clearly and widely view the fields of contemporary war literature and film. I’ve arranged the lists chronologically and within each year alphabetically by author or director. If I’ve misspelled a name or title, gotten a date wrong, or omitted a work you think important, please let me know and we’ll make the list better.

If the author or director has served in the US military, or is the spouse of a veteran, I have annotated the branch of service in parentheses.

The lists of “Important Precursor” texts and films represent works that I think are well known and influential among today’s war artists.  A list of stage, dance, and performance war art is forthcoming.

Important Precursor Texts:

Michael Herr: Dispatches (1978)
Tim O’Brien (Army): The Things They Carried (1990)
Yusef Komunyakaa (Army): Neon Vernacular (1993)
Anthony Swofford (USMC): Jarhead (2003)

Important Precursor Films:

Oliver Stone (Army), director: Platoon (1986)
Stanley Kubrick, director: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Ridley Scott, director: Blackhawk Down (2001)

Contemporary Fiction:

Siobhan Fallon (Army spouse): You Know When the Men Are Gone (2011)
Helen Benedict: Sand Queen (2011)
David Abrams (Army): Fobbit (2012)
Ben Fountain: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
Kevin Powers (Army): The Yellow Birds (2012)
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya: The Watch (2012)
Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden (2013)
Lea Carpenter: Eleven Days (2013)
Masha Hamilton: What Changes Everything (2013)
Hilary Plum: They Dragged Them Through the Streets (2013)
Roxana Robinson: Sparta (2013)
J.K. Rowling (aka Robert Galbraith): The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013)
Katey Shultz: Flashes of War (2013)
Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton (Army) and Matt Gallagher (Army) (2013)
Greg Baxter: The Apartment (2014)
Hassan Blasim, The Corpse Exhibition (2014)
Aaron Gwyn: Wynne’s War (2014)
Kara Hoffman: Be Safe, I Love You (2014)
Atticus Lish (USMC): Preparation for the Next Life (2014)
Phil Klay (USMC): Redeployment (2014)
Michael Pitre (USMC): Fives and Twenty-Fives (2014)

Contemporary Poetry:

Juliana Spahr: This Connection of Everyone with Lungs (2005)
Brian Turner (Army): Here, Bullet (2005)
Walt Piatt (Army), Paktika (2006)
Jehanne Dubrow (Navy spouse): Stateside (2010)
Elyse Fenton (Army spouse): Clamor (2010)
Brian Turner (Army): Phantom Noise (2010)
Paul Wasserman (USAF): Say Again All (2012)
Colin Halloran (Army): Shortly Thereafter (2012)
Amalie Flynn (Navy spouse): Wife and War (2013)
Kevin Powers (Army): Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (2014)

Contemporary Memoir, Blog-writing, and Reportage:

Colby Buzzell (Army): My War: Killing Time in Iraq (2005)
Kayla Williams (Army): Love My Rifle More Than I Love You: Young & Female in the U.S. Army (2006)
Nathaniel Fink (USMC): One Bullet Away (2006)
Marcus Luttrell (Navy) and Patrick Robinson: Lone Survivor (2007)
Peter Monsoor (Army): A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq (2008)
Craig Mullaney (Army): The Unforgiving Minute (2009)
Matt Gallagher (Army): Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (2010)
Benjamin Tupper (Army): Greetings from Afghanistan: Send More Ammo (2011)
James Wilhite (Army): We Answered the Call: Building the Crown Jewel of Afghanistan (2010)
Benjamin Busch (USMC): Dust to Dust (2012)
Brian Castner (Air Force): The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows (2012)
Sean Parnell (Army): Outlaw Platoon (2012)
Ron Capps (Army): Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years (2013)
Stanley McChrystal (Army): My Share of the Task (2013)
Adrian Bonenburger (Army): Afghan Post: One Soldier’s Correspondence from America’s Forgotten War (2014)
Jennifer Percy: Demon Camp (2014)
Brian Turner (Army): My Life as a Foreign Country (2014)

Photography:

Sebastian Junger: War (2010) and Tim Hetherington and Infidel (2010)
Benjamin Busch (USMC): The Art in War (2010)
Michael Kamber: Photojournalists on War: The Untold Stories from Iraq (2013)

Film:

Kathryn Bigelow, director: The Hurt Locker (2008)
Sebastian Junger, director: Restrepo (2009)
Oren Moverman, director: The Messenger (2009)
Kathryn Bigelow, director: Zero-Dark-Thirty (2012)
Peter Berg, director: Lone Survivor (2013)
Sebastian Junger, director: Korengal (2014)
Claudia Myers, director: Fort Bliss (2014)

Criticism:

Elizabeth Samet: Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (2007)
Stacey Peebles: Welcome to the Suck: Narrating the American Soldier’s Experience in Iraq (2011)
Elizabeth Samet: No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America (2014)

A caveat up-front is that my lists do not reflect hundreds of stories, poems, and photographs published individually in anthologies, magazines, and on the web. Some of my favorite stories, by authors such as Mariette Kalinowski, Maurice Decaul, Will Mackin, and Brian Van Reet, and photographs, such as the one by Bill Putnam published here, thus do not appear above, though I hope to post more comprehensive lists in the future.

Another deficiency is the lack of works by international authors and filmmakers, particularly Iraqi and Afghan artists. Again, that project awaits completion.

My list of memoirs is probably the most subjective. The works I’ve listed are those I think important historically or interesting to me personally, with a small nod toward providing a variety of perspectives. The small number of photography texts I’ve listed combine evocative pictures taken at war and on the homefront with insightful commentary written by the photographers and collaborators themselves.

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4 Comments on “The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Fiction, Poetry, Memoir, Film, and Photography: A Compendium”


  1. Well, this is the closest thing to an exhaustive list as I’ve seen. Well done! The first Vietnam-era novel on the list comes 3 years after the end of combat. There must be others published earlier, but I can’t actually think of one. It’s interesting to think of that in light of the volume of work that has come out during the Afghan war and during or closely on the heels of Iraq. Jarhead, too, comes more than a decade after the Gulf War. I wonder if the official-but-not-exactly troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will usher in an era of less self-conscious writing… meaning novels with plots, novels that are more critical, and perhaps also more laudatory (within literary realism versus mass market)… she says, tapping her finger, while awaiting word on her perhaps-more-imaginative-and-both-more-critical-and-more-laudatory first person novel with a major plot and 87 characters, 4 dogs, 10 goats, 6 monkeys, and a partridge in a pear tree.

    • Peter Molin Says:

      I hope the best is yet to come, but we might have already seen as good as we’re going to get. Some new works are bound to be formulaic, derivative, or written to meet uncritical popular demand, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that the wars continue to attract the attention of writers and artists with originality, insight, and urgency.

  2. Nicholas Maurstad Says:

    The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell by John Crawford is exceptional. I wasn’t terribly impressed by Colby Buzzle’s writing. This is a bit shameless but I’m out of print so whatever, Bristol’s Bastards is a memoir that I published through Zenith Press in 2008 about my time in Fallujah.

  3. Peter Molin Says:

    Thanks, Nicholas. I’ve heard a lot about The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell, but haven’t read it yet. It’s one of the first memoirs coming out of the wars, published in 2005, right? I’m interested in your memoir, too. For my money, some of the least told stories are those of National Guardsmen who saw as much action as any Regular Army soldier or Marine. I’m eager to read memoirs such as yours and Crawford’s, and even more eager to see such stories told in novel or short-story form. I was RA, but served alongside Guard units and personnel from Virginia, Georgia, California, Iowa, Illinois, and many other places, and I was always interested in their perspectives and what they brought to the table.


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