In “Ramadi Nights,” author Neil Shea offers up nocturnal desert patrols, pre-dawn home raids, and the dislocated daydreams of servicemen he meets while embedded in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar. Shea’s Virginia Quarterly Review account details his time with the Marines of India Company, giving the reader a vivid picture of what it means to ride along—the “little, deadly commutes” and the glow sticks the soldiers wear at night, a “trail of green lights floating through the blackness… as if they were already dead, a procession of departing spirits.”

Shea makes deft use of literary language but checks his eloquence with hard landings: after an explosion takes out the front of their truck, in the midst of the smoke and dust, the platoon leader reminds the narrator to make sure he still has his arms and legs.

While Shea’s chronology of his time in Ramadi occasionally runs long, he simultaneously lays a second, leaner narrative over the first—one in which he searches his experiences to find a link between the military assertions of success and the disturbing dramas he saw unfold in Iraqi homes. We appreciate the richness this second layer adds. Playing to the strength of his decision to write the article in the first person, he goes beyond traditional reportage to make a startling assessment of what it means if the war planners and his own eyes are both right.

Read “Ramadi Nights,” by Neil Shea

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