Catalyst for Change: an Appreciation for the Words of Farzana Marie

I feel unqualified to introduce you to the written work of Farzana Marie. I know so little about war. So little about the mindset of soldiers sent overseas to support our military’s mission and preserve freedoms that we take for granted every day.

I have an outsider’s perspective of war. My father served in the Korean War but hardly talked about it. He seemed to look back at his time in the U.S. Army as a bad dream, with details too grim to share. I have uncles, cousins, in-laws, friends, Facebook connections—all who have served in foreign wars (World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq), but I seldom hear stories that illustrate the direct impact of war.

Like many average working Americans, I am numb to war. I am detached. Any report of war casualties anger and sadden me but they do not awaken me. This underreaction does not befit the unfathomable circumstances—the horrifying, otherworldly realities—that our selfless military personnel experience firsthand. We appear immune to the physical, mental, and emotional suffering they endure.

War is not a movie that we get to summon at will and consider at our convenience. War is not some distant concept that pundits get to prod and scrutinize for gamesmanship. War is alive, like a snare drum beating through our veins.

As Margaret Atwood wrote in The Robber Bride, a quote that Farzana Marie cites in Namedwell: “War is what happens when language fails.”

Farzana Marie’s personal writings succeed in light of war’s failure with prose that commands attention. This is not measured rhetoric that allows readers a haven to sit in their armchairs a comfortable distance from active war zones. These are reflections made extraordinary by how ordinary they convey the conflicting emotions that war evokes.

“I wanted to understand what we were doing, exactly. I wanted to know whether the news was to be believed, whether it was all noise and explosions and senseless life-loss, or whether there was some productivity in it, something sensible—something worth bleeding for.” – from “Restrepo: One Slice of War

As a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Farzana served on active duty for more than six years (2006-2012) including two consecutive years of deployed service in Afghanistan. Following her deployment she stayed in Afghanistan and became president of a nonprofit organization focused on influencing international relationships through connecting, informing, and inspiring citizens.

Twelve days after sending me what she described as “not exactly poetry,” Farzana, 31, a doctoral student of Middle Eastern literature at the University of Arizona, suffered a massive stroke and fell in Afghanistan, while arranging a cultural exchange between senior U.S. and NATO leaders and influential Afghan citizens. She is now being treated with her family in Arizona, but has so far lost the ability to speak or write, and is challenged cognitively.

Her story mustn’t end here.

Her insightful thoughts about the Afghanistan War—which she called “vignettes and mini-essays…composed of the raw materials of personal story”—must endure.

Her eloquent observations about her training and deployment must bring pause, wonder, and yes, shudders to us as readers and fellow U.S. citizens as they cast light on a subject that many of us are reluctant and ill-equipped to handle.

“I didn’t think you had to love war to fight one. I hoped that being someone who loved peace would make me fight better.” – from “To Fight

Farzana’s words are a stark, yet vibrant reminder that fourteen years after it began as Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led war in Afghanistan remains an everyday reality.

We recently learned that 9,800 U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan are not coming home. They will remain for training and counterterrorism operations. They will remain indefinitely because we are a country at war.

As we absorb this cold, hard fact and accept it as a way of life, we must allow too these dispatches by Farzana Marie to touch and inform us. We must allow them to enrage, embolden, and qualify us as witnesses of war and catalysts for change.


From Eight Slices of the War in Afghanistan by Farzana Marie

Introduction by Dan Cafaro, Publisher
I: To Merge, To Erase
II: Restrepo: One Slice of the War
III: Inside with an Itch
IV: Enter to Search
V: To Fight
VI: To Find or Be Found
VII: When Language Fails
VIII: Tea with Terrible Questions
Afterword by Dr. Timothy Kirk, Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Ret)


Photo Credit: Eric Hervey

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