The Citizen Soldier: Moral Risk and the Modern Military

phil klay

Writer Phil Klay. Photo by Hannah Dunphy

Current Princeton Hodder Fellow, National Book Award-winning author and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Phil Klay sheds light on the tenuous relationship between veterans and society in a Brookings Essay published on May 24.

In “The Citizen Soldier: Moral Risk and the Modern Military,” Klay explores the moral dimensions of veterans, their purpose in war, and their reintegration into the civilian world.

The rumor was he’d killed an Iraqi soldier with his bare hands. Or maybe bashed his head in with a radio. Something to that effect. Either way, during inspections at Officer Candidates School, the Marine Corps version of boot camp for officers, he was the Sergeant Instructor who asked the hardest, the craziest questions. No softballs. No, “Who’s the Old Man of the Marine Corps?” or “What’s your first general order?” The first time he paced down the squad bay, all of us at attention in front of our racks, he grilled the would-be infantry guys with, “Would it bother you, ordering men into an assault where you know some will die?” and the would-be pilots with, “Do you think you could drop a bomb on an enemy target, knowing you might also kill women and kids?”

— excerpt from “The Citizen Soldier” by Phil Klay

Klay served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2014 his short story collection, Redeployment, won the National Book Award for Fiction.

Read Klay’s full essay for Brookings here

Brookings supports independent research by commissioning works on major topics of public policy by distinguished authors. The Brookings Essay is a multi-platform, long-form product intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues.

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