Sometime before General Stanley McChrystal was fired by President Obama, he told a friend that he would like to open a bookstore after retiring. McChrystal's literary ambitions go all the way back to his years at West Point, where he was managing editor of the student literary journal, The Pointer, for which he also wrote seven short stories. Harper's Magazine, in its latest issue, reproduces one of his stories, "In The Line of Duty." Written in 1974 when McChrystal was only 20, the story is clearly the work of a young man but is surprisingly thoughtful and political.
The young McChrystal tells the story of a terrible accident that takes place, bizarrely, during the U.S. military occupation of an unnamed Arab country. U.S. troops shoot a young local boy they mistake for a "terrorist," leading the narrator, an Army lieutenant, to doubt the American mission and ultimately destroy the minefield surrounding the U.S. base.
McChrystal, clearly a victim of the military's infamously Orwellian obsession with official lexicon, vacillates between Army jargon and more traditional literary language. His second sentence alone contains the phrases "permanent defensive positions around the perimeter" as well as "the flickering campfires of nomadic tribesmen."
His protagonist's narration articulates a decidedly dove-like, liberal, anti-war outlook: "He doubted seizing their oil fields had been a necessity; more likely defending national honor in the face of economic humiliation, he reasoned. Nothing for him to worry about, though. They seldom consult lieutenants when the decision to protect national honor is made. It just didn't seem at all honorable to him." McChrystal's protagonist fights with his superior, arguing that U.S. troops have a duty to both their home country and to the civilians of any foreign country they inhabit.
The story, which one blogger called "very well-written and surprisingly thought-provoking," will probably not be enough to get McChrystal a fiction book deal with Knopf. But now, 36 years after his first literary foray, could McChrystal return to writing? He'll be at Yale this fall to teach a class on global affairs--perhaps Yale Professor and literary figure Harold Bloom will let the former general sit in on a few creative writing classes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.