They taught us how to kill with assault weapons, bayonets, bare hands. They taught us the lay of the land, how to navigate by rivers and stars, how to use cover to outflank enemy operatives, how to make a…
Some writers begin with character, some with theme, some with plot. I almost always begin with language. While writing “What They Didn’t Teach Us” I had two bits of language in mind: “collateral damage”—since the 1960s a favorite military euphemism for killing civilians—and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a sickening obfuscation used by the Bush administration to disguise torture. Neither of these phrases made it into the story, but they’re lurking in the margins.
The first time I read this piece to an audience I unexpectedly found myself almost shaking with anger. As so many people have noted, we’re now in a period of Orwellian Newspeak. I hope that “What They Didn’t Teach Us” catches some of the current administration’s obscene debasement of language, their rapaciousness—taking and destroying and monetizing everything in reach—and their cruelty.
LUKE WHISNANT’s In the Debris Field won the 2018 Bath Flash Fiction International Novella-in-Flash Award. His other books include the novel Watching TV with the Red Chinese and the short story collection Down in the Flood; his latest collection, The Connor Project, is forthcoming from Iris Press in 2020. He teaches at East Carolina University, in Greenville, NC, where he also edits the journal Tar River Poetry.