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Service Reflections: Q&A with Editor Dario DiBattista

Retire the Colors is a multi-faceted, poignant collection bringing together varied voices–veterans, family members, dignitaries–to reflect on the experience of going to and coming home from war. We were able to speak with editor Dario DiBattista about building the collection and the ways civilians can approach its major themes.

How did the stories and authors get chosen?
The point of this book was to stimulate a conversation between the 99 percent of Americans who didn’t serve in Iraq or Afghanistan with those that did. But war, of course, does not just affect the people who go “over there,” so it was important to include the perspectives of anyone who’s been impacted by the wars. Moreover, war, as some people forget, is a democratic process. The military doesn’t choose to go to war; our elected representatives make those decisions. So whether they like it or not, those that don’t go to war have some stake over those who did — so it’s probably a good idea to know what that means in a human sense.

How can the collection help to bridge the civilian-military divide?
I know from teaching rhetoric for a very long time, that facts and figures don’t tend to get too much of a response out of people. When you say, for instance, that the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, well, that kind of doesn’t resonate too much. Storytelling — any personal storytelling as it pertains to any matter or issue — is a platform that allows an individual to connect in an empathetic and emotional and substantive way. When someone shares their story, they’re saying, “I want you to know this about my life for this reason.” We know from social research that your average American knows very little about the military, and many don’t know anyone who’s serving. This collection bridges that ever-widening divide in what I hope is an illuminating and important way.

A running theme throughout the collection seems to be a sense of moral injury, best described by Matthew Hefti in his piece as “a great and undeserved gift,” to describe some veterans’ experience in coming home. How can readers understand moral injury as opposed to survival guilt?
Survivor’s guilt is a complex emotional reaction to having been in harm’s way and come out mostly unscathed. Why him, and not me? It’s a hard question for some to get over. But war and surviving it, as Nathaniel Fick talks about in his memoir of being a Marine officer, comes down to a matter of “the sacred geometry of chance,” and that can take a lot to understand and get over. Moral injury, dissimilar but also an emotional and mental health issue, is a sense of being forced to do something that goes contradictory to your core principles or beliefs. I think a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are suffering moral injury these days as the places we fought and died for are returning to enemy hands. It’s forcing us to consider what our service was for. Was it noble? Was it good? Did we fail our country? Or did our country fail us? Retire the Colors covers a lot of territory in that regard, yes, and I’m glad it does because this is something most civilians don’t understand at all.

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