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What Wars Leave Behind

The Faceless and the Forgotten

J. Malcolm Garcia

Publication Year: 2014

They bear labels instead of names—noncombatant, unintended victim, collateral damage. Theirs are the blurred faces and forms seen in news footage shot from a moving vehicle. And when soldiers, media, and profiteers move on to the next conflict, they stay behind to cope amid the wreckage. They have stories to tell to anyone who will pause long enough to hear them.

In What Wars Leave Behind, J. Malcolm Garcia reveals the people and pain behind the statistics. He writes about impoverished families scraping by in Cairo’s city of the dead, ordinary Syrianspretending all is well as shells explode around them, and others caught in conflicts that rage long after the cameramen have packed up and gone away.

Garcia describes his travels in some of the world’s hotspots in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In a series of personal travel essays that read like short stories, he exposes the endless messiness of war and the failings of good intentions, and he traces their impact on the lives of natives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Kosovo, Chad, and Syria. He discovers amazing resilience among people who must struggle just to survive each day.

Garcia gives readers the sort of gritty detail learned from immersing himself in other cultures. He eats the food, drinks the tea, and endures the oppressive heat. These are the stories of how a middle-class guy from the Midwest with a social work degree learned to experience and embrace the cultures of Third World countries in conflict—and lived to tell the tale.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

My deepest thanks to the editors of Ascent Magazine, Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics, McSweeney’s, New Letters, Southampton Review, Superstition Review, Vice Magazine, and Virginia Quarterly Review for first publishing these stories. ...

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pp. 1-4

I slipped, fell, and started sliding off the rock ledge. I reached for a sapling, roots, anything, waving my arms until finally I seized the prosthetic leg of the man behind me as I passed him. He clung to the arm of a man ahead of him, and together they pulled me up. ...

Part 1: Conflict Zones

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1. Securing District 4

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pp. 7-10

The captain, however, must pick up an Afghan police officer. On paper the American, Canadian, Icelandic, and western and eastern European soldiers of the international security assistance forces play only a supportive role for the central Afghan government. The captain explains that protocol requires an Afghan police officer to lead patrols. ...

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2. Beneath Us the Ground Still Moves

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pp. 11-34

In the hazy afternoon light I walk past row after row of tan Pakistan army tents, taut and erect and aligned, past row after row of aluminum toilet stalls and water dispensers on parched ground. My translator, Tahir, shoos children away, stops them from clutching my hands, but they follow us anyway, churning dust around their sore-covered feet. ...

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3. African Promise

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pp. 35-64

The throbbing music emanating from Le Carnivore Restaurant behind our hotel grows tinnier with each tortured beat, the voices rising to ever-higher levels of screeching. Although Darren and I feel exhausted from the twenty-four-hour flight from Boston to here, N’Djamena, the corrupt capital of the ruined African country of Chad, the merciless pulse of distortion refuses us sleep. ...

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4. Who Is in the Power?

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pp. 65-84

The birds entwine their heads like lovers, then separate and rear back, stabbing with their beaks. Blood spurts from one bird’s eye. Men encircling the pit shout, throwing money into the filmy air, watching it fall and kick up dust from the dry ground. The wounded bird wanders blindly as the other bird jumps on its back. ...

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5. The Dead Lieutenant

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pp. 85-98

We’re sitting outside the mess hall of Combat Outpost Tereyzai. The soldiers smoke, flick ashes into a trash barrel. They have been here since January. Heads shaved. Each wearing the same beige desert uniform, the same beige lace-up boots, the same beige caps. ...

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6. Revolution Download

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pp. 99-114

He applies the language of the Internet to the live video game outside. Incoming fire from the Syrian government he calls downloading. Return fire by the rebels is uploading. ...

Part 2: Lost and Gone

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7. You Cannot Tell from the Expressions on Our Faces What We Are Feeling

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pp. 117-134

We first met in Afghanistan in 2003. He was a source. We got to know each other and became friends in the way I become friends with people I use for information. Constant contact breeds familiarity. We remained in touch after he was assigned to Islamabad. I e-mailed him as I prepared for this trip, and he agreed to meet me at my guest house after I arrived. ...

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8. Missing

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pp. 135-150

Amina kept all the flowers her husband, Masood, gave her over the years. She kept the first bottle of perfume, the first scarf. She believes he will be back, as strongly as she believes in God. Tomorrow or the day after or next week or next month. She doesn’t know when but someday. She must believe this to stay motivated. ...

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9. Here Everything Is Poison

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pp. 151-166

Looking at me, the boy starts to giggle. How old? Maybe five? He can’t stop giggling. We are playing this game beneath gray skies in Osterode Resettlement Camp, in the ethnically divided city of North Mitrovica. ...

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10. Bed 18

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pp. 167-180

In bed 19 a woman suffers from high blood pressure and burns to her feet from boiling water spilled from a pot. The woman in bed 21 burned herself lighting an oil lamp. The one in bed 20 fell against a water heater. ...

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11. Pyramid Schemes

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pp. 181-196

Friday, April 8, 11 A.M. | She wants me to look at the sign she holds high above the heads of protesters and read the words she has written on either side of a photograph of her five-year-old grandson. ...

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12. War Wounds

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pp. 197-212

He was shot by the Taliban and is a patient in the paraplegic ward of Kabul’s Orthopedic Center. Across the hall is an examination and exercise room for amputees with new prosthetic limbs. Most of these patients lost a hand or leg to land mines and rocket-propelled grenades, some as long ago as the 1980 Russian invasion. ...

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13. Maybe the Children Will Forget

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pp. 213-230

Classmates Moutasem and Sarah watch their breath steam in the frigid February air. We are in the principal’s office of Muhammad al-Fatih, a secondary school for teenage children of Syrian refugees in Antakya, Turkey. The school has no heat. Still, it is better to freeze here than to be in Syria right now, my Syrian translator, Hazim, tells me. ...

Part 3: Home Bound

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14. Unpaid Leave

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pp. 233-246

The reporter scooped a spoonful of canned tuna onto the plastic bag used to line his hotel wastebasket and left it outside his door for the cat. A gardener watering potted red geraniums in the courtyard from a hose nodded at him. ...

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15. City of the Dead

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pp. 247-256

Her crimped fingers uncoil one by one against the gnarled restraints of her arthritis. With what little flexibility remains in the nearly petrified muscles, the fingers crab walk across the rumpled sheets of her bed; they probe forward, as would a spider on ruined legs, toward a brown bottle of medicine she takes for ailments whose names she has long since forgotten. ...


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pp. 257-258

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About the Author

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J. Malcolm Garcia is the author of The Khaarijee: A Chronicle of Friendship and War in Kabul (2009) and Riding through Katrina with the Red Baron’s Ghost (2012). ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273260
E-ISBN-10: 0826273262
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220219
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220215

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014