Centre professor Stacey Peebles publishes book on Iraq war
Centre professors do more than teach classes and grade papers: they are often experts in their areas of study, and consistently publish important research.
Assistant professor of English Stacey Peebles is no exception — she recently published “Welcome to the Suck: Narrating the American Soldier’s Experience in Iraq” (Cornell University Press).
In her book — the title of which incorporates a slang term for the Marine Corps — Peebles discusses how various cultural works have reflected and shaped the war experience of the American soldier in Iraq.
“I’d always been interested in literature about World War II and Vietnam. My dad was drafted into Vietnam, and so we would talk about writers like Tim O’Brien and Michael Herr,” Peebles says. “When the 9/11 attacks happened, suddenly we were at war again — in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. I was curious about what the new war stories would be — not just who would be the next James Jones or Tim O’Brien, but what the conventions of those stories would be. In the book, I try to trace those conventions in the first wave of representations of contemporary war.”
Peebles’ work is being praised as the first of its kind about the Iraq War — and, as such, is also considered the first to look at the experience of the contemporary American soldier.
“People fighting today have grown up in a very different historical and social context than those who fought in Vietnam or World War II, after all. They have different attitudes about race, about technology, about politics — you name it,” Peebles says. “And there are more women serving than ever before, which changes the face of the military in an important way. I hope the book illuminates some of these changes.”
A bevy of film, literature and art has been made in the last decade depicting war in Iraq, and in her book, Peebles looks in-depth at what a select few of those works say about war in modern society.
“There were a number of memoirs that came out in 2005, and in 2007 there were several interesting films, like Paul Haggis’ ‘In the Valley of Elah’,” Peebles says. “I also started looking at blogs, since the Internet has given soldiers an unprecedented venue for communicating with people back home. ‘The Hurt Locker’ came out in 2009 and won the Oscar for Best Picture, just in time for me to write about it in my last chapter.”
Several specific works were particularly inspiring for Peebles.
“I think I was most excited to write about the literature and film that seems like it will have a lasting impact,” she says. “‘In the Valley of Elah’ really is a wonderful film, and Brian Turner’s collection of poetry ‘Here, Bullet’ is extraordinary.”
“Welcome to the Suck” is meant to give readers an understanding of what fighting in Iraq is like for soldiers — as well as what it’s like for them to come home.
“Ten years after 9/11, there are so many people who have served overseas, and I think it’s tremendously important to be aware of and sensitive to their experience — not just what happened to them, but how we’re processing that experience as a culture, in the stories that appear in books and movies and online,” she says. “It’s not surprising that trauma is such a ubiquitous theme. Brian Turner ends his book of poetry with a line about how what you see in war can be both illuminating and devastating at the same time.”
Peebles hopes readers will come away from “Welcome to the Suck” with a better appreciation for the experience of the American soldier through the films and literature that portray the war in Iraq.
“These are works that emphasize the universal and particular experience of war. I think that every war is the same and that every war is different, as they say,” she says. “If only the former were true, there wouldn’t be anything to write about.”