Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Saturday, August 29, 2015

An Excerpt from Amalie Flynn's Wife and War

It is my pleasure to post an excerpt from the wonderful writer and poet Amalie Flynn's memoir, Wife and War. You might recall that we interviewed Amalie back in 2012. You can find that interview here. We at CWCP are big fans of her work. Indeed, I find her writing very accessible and moving, making the consequences of war and violence real and vivid. She takes readers to places that many scholars and analysts and pundits don't go or don't even think about. We hope you enjoy.




I am thinking about movement today.

I am thinking about movement and about its absence.

            About a bomb lodged underneath the unarmored Ford pickup truck my husband drives, every single day, up and down the road they call the Highway of Death. About how a bomb will force his pickup, up, into the air, and how it will force his body, up, into the air. About how his head may blow up or fly, fly across the road, his head, and land somewhere else.

            I am thinking about how, here, at home, time feels like it is standing still while my husband is away. And about how time marches on. About how horrible this deployment is, but, as the days turn into months, how it has gotten easier, and even more enjoyable, this time I have now, time which is only my time.

            I am thinking about America. This country I live in, about how we all seem to pretend the war is not happening. Because I am thinking about movement today, thinking about movement and about its absence.


            I watch the news, sitting, here, on my bed, which used to be our bed, except, now, my husband is gone. And I am watching the war on television again, this footage that has been edited and squeezed into something that can fit between two commercials. How this war has become a product, packaged into tearful homecomings and loyal dogs and sweet wives.

            I have seen this happen before.

            How 9/11 was turned into a tourist attractions. T-shirts and car decals and miniature Twin Tower snow globes.

            But the truth, I say, out loud, to the television.

            The truth is something different.

            The truth is that war and terror are this. An amputated leg, a dead body, a road littered with bombs, a lost country, with children, children like ours, living in war, and soldiers coming home, soldiers who have given so much, that they have nothing else to give.




            When you are a military wife, your life is full of holes.

            Your husband goes to war.

            He is gone. And there is a hole in the calendar, the hole where days fall and never come back, where time has stopped but still goes on. And while he is gone, you think about it, about what can happen. You think about him getting killed. And about how, how they will lower him into a hole, dug into the ground, a flag draped over the coffin. You think about him getting shot, a hole in his head, where the doctors will put a metal plate. You think about him getting blown up, blown up by a roadside bomb, his right leg amputated, that missing limb. And you don’t know yet. You don’t know about the other holes. More holes, the holes that will come later, if you are lucky, lucky enough, and he comes home alive.

            My husband has been gone for one year.

            And I think about it, about what can happen, all the time. As I lay, in our bed, a hole next to me, this space where his body used to be.

            On 9/11, I fell, down, in the street,

            After the Tower fell, down, behind me.

            A man I did not know lifted me up,

            His fingers in my armpits,

            Asking me, a thick German accent,

            What is your name and how, when I told him,

            He smiled, repeating it, Amalie

            Because my name is German too,

            Pointing up, to a window,

            On the side of an office building,

            And I followed him up a fire escape,

            Into an empty room, empty desks, empty chairs,

            Sitting in a chair at a desk, someone else’s.

            And using the telephone, calling my mother,

            Saying the words I am still alive.

            Now my husband is calling me, calling me from a payphone in Kabul, his voice, almost lost, in static, telling me, how, he is still alive. And I know. I know what those words mean. How they really mean, I almost died today.


            It is early morning in Afghanistan, not even five your time, I say, into the telephone, to my husband, who is breathing, back, to me, on the other end. And I am distracted, because I am busy, driving somewhere, the radio on, and our son, talking, in the backseat.

            I say, it’s your Daddy, to my son, but into the telephone, to my husband, who is standing at the front of a long line, ready, in full battle rattle, helmet, armor, fatigues, boots, and gun, but waiting, waiting for his turn to call me, and hear my voice, before he goes, just another day, driving down the Highway of Death.
            And when I hang up the telephone, things feel heavier.

            A machine gun hanging at my husband’s side, that conversation we just had, his words and mine, the ones I said, and the weight of the ones I forgot to say, and the days and nights stretching out in front of both of us, now, that it is done.

            But this is just part of being a military wife.
            How when your husband calls you from war, you are not always ready, even though, even though this could be the last time.


            You must miss him.

            Everyone says that, says you must miss him.

            And I always say I do, how I do, I miss him.
            But the truth is this. Deployment is hard. And deployment can be easy. My husband has been gone for over a year, now. And, yes, I miss him. But some days I don’t. I don’t miss him.

            This is deployment. It is the pain of missing him. And it is the pain of not missing him. Some days I forget about him. Because it has been so long, too long, this separation.


Amalie Flynn is an American writer and the author of WIFE AND WAR: THE MEMOIR and two blogs: WIFE AND WAR and SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH. Flynn’s WIFE AND WAR poetry has appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES AT WAR and in TIME’S BATTLELAND, has appeared in her blog for THE HUFFINGTON POST, and has received mention from THE NEW YORK TIMES MEDIA DECODER. Her SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH blog has received mention from CNN. In addition, her WIFE AND WAR blog has a global readership, with readers from over 90 countries. WIFE AND WAR: THE MEMOIR is her first book.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The American Right and Left on Gun Violence

From Aurora (CO) to Sandy Hook to Charleston to Chicago, violent gun tragedies in America, justifiably, have grabbed headline attention over the last few years. Activists decry the violence, the media spills much ink, and public officials engage in partisan grandstanding, but not a whole lot has been accomplished to solve the ongoing problem of homicide via guns. The violence continues, and thousands of innocent people are killed annually.

What do we make of all this? For sure, there’s a lot of blame to go around. One major failure is the inability of liberals and conservatives in Washington to bridge their differences and put forward effective policies. A major factor here is the ideological differences between both sides. This is what I’d like to focus on in this post. To explore these differences, let’s take a quick look at four salient gun debates that liberals and conservatives are currently engaged in. It’s the sharp disagreements on these debates, in part, effectively hamper much problem solving on guns from Washington.  

#Debate 1

Conservatives are right that more laws aren’t a panacea, as they don’t completely eliminate gun violence. Bureaucrats and their underlings make mistakes, there are administrative screw-ups and legal loopholes abound. For example, people who should be excluded from buying guns via background checks frequently aren’t prevented from doing so. They don’t show up as mental health risks, felons, etc.

But liberals are right, too, in that more laws can help reduce gun violence. Well-written and enforced laws can make it more difficult for miscreants and the troubled to gain access to weapons. It takes the White House, Congress, States, the FBI, police, judges, and so on, to get on the same page to craft and execute and monitor good legislation and to capture and punish those who violate the law. True, but that’s something that’s much easier said than done, however—as conservatives like to point out.

#Debate 2

Conservatives emphasize personal responsibility. Do the crime, do the time. They support strong, strict prison sentences for gun violence, illegal possession of weapons, etc. And they also exhort people who know and are in contact with gun violators and criminals to play their part by contacting police and mental health professionals. It’s their job as moral citizens.

Liberals say that harsh criminal sentences haven’t been an effective deterrent mechanism to prevent gun violence. Liberals would agree that 3rd parties could do a better job in being a part of the solution, but believe that there can be limits to their effectiveness and willingness to do so. Gun criminals often hang around with people who themselves aren’t great citizens, not particularly responsible, and aren’t inclined to act as community watchdogs. Moreover, in some cases, tattling could mean that people implicate themselves in crimes. So the incentive to participate isn’t always there.

#Debate 3

Conservatives argue that gun rights are enshrined in the second amendment. They are a necessary hedge against a future tyrannical American government. Additionally, conservatives argue that the right to self-defense is a constitutionally protected right and has been upheld repeatedly, even expanded, in legal cases. Hence, any attempt to sharply roll back the freedom of Americans to acquire guns violate the Constitution and should be prohibited. Simple as that.

Most liberals are willing to bend on the primacy of the 2nd amendment. They think the problem of gun rights is serious enough to create laws that circumscribe gun rights. Besides, the 2nd amendment was written at a time in which the American republic was nascent and fragile, and when their experience with harsh British rule was fresh on their minds. Times have significantly changed, say liberals.

Moreover, what can citizens really do by hoarding weapons individually or collectively? The asymmetry in power between the government and private citizens has only widened over time, particularly as technology has improved. After all, Washington, backed by the military, has state-of-the-art weapons and defense systems, and, of course, nuclear power. Americans can’t compete with all that.

Debate #4

And then we have the data. They mean different things to different people. Let’s look at just a small sample to illustrate my point.

As liberals point out, the US is an increasingly militarized society—its military oversees the largest defense budget in the world, US police forces are rapidly arming themselves to the teeth with military-style weaponry, and US citizens are awash in guns. American citizens are speculated to hold about 300 million firearms, or about .9 per person. That per capita rate is 50 percent higher than the next most armed country, which is Yemen, a war torn basket-case. The US is much, much more prone to gun violence compared to other modern industrialized democracies. In fact, on gun violence, the US looks more like Mexico than, say, Britain or France. And mass shootings are on the upswing—though still rare.

But conservatives, meantime, are correct in highlighting the fact that gun violence is actually down since the peak violent days of the early 1990s. And while the US has recently averaged about 33,500 gun deaths per year (from 2000-2010), a little under two-thirds of those fatalities have been suicides, not homicides. Moreover, data indicate that defensive uses of weapons occur just as often as offensive uses of weapons, and that such uses of weapons are frequently effective. According to, “studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was 'used' by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

So as we can see, both sides do make good points. But partisan mudslinging, while appealing for political reasons, misses much of the story of gun violence, as neither side has captured the full truth of what’s going on here. Unfortunately, bridging the ideological differences has been and will continue to be tough.

Entrenched partisan politics—interest group politics, the role of money in elections, and the voice of the hardliners on both the right and left in America—make compromise extremely difficult for those officials in Washington who might be willing to bend on their ideological positions. And even in the face of especially horrific events like the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school murders, which claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 staff members (plus the gunman’s mother and the shooter himself), the right and left in America really couldn’t find much common ground—at least not enough to begin to work toward remedying the problem of gun violence.