Bringing the alternative to the mainstream by any means necessary
What have we got here ultimately? This is a story about a man making a decision based on a hunch, but a decision made, in his mind, in good faith and for the larger good. We've got it book-ended with the diner and his unburdening of his guilty soul. All good places to start with, but the story is trying too hard to capture that gritty, battlefield action at the expense of character...you're giving me plot, but no insight into this gentleman's actions.
One of the tricks to writing about such an insular world, like the military, is to capture the cadence and syntax of how things are spoken in that world. The danger lies in relying too much on the idiosyncratic turns of phrase, the acronyms, the HUA speak to establish authoritative narrative voice. All of that is necessary, but it can easily become a gimmick. Starting in the third paragraph, you get a little heavy with the "The Things They Carried" recitation, which worked in O'Brien's story because it is spread throughout the story and is grounded in a personal piece of equipment that each man carries--something that let's me see/know them. Unfortunately, when I read it here, it flags itself more as an attempt by the author to validate credibility--I'll take the narrative voice's word for it, he knows about this place, this culture, this war, and I'll gladly go along for the ride, but you can't be gratuitous in military accuracy. It feels like someone telling me over and over how cool they are, you either are or you're not. Beating me in the head with it doesn't make the case.
Beyond the above, I don't know this guy or the interpreter. The two most important players in our tragedy, and I couldn't tell you much about either from the story. SGT Whitman has little revealed interior landscaping--a wily Vet sitting at a diner and staring out over his coffee does not tell me anything about this gentleman. You've got his Civilian job shoehorned in, but I need to see him interact with someone. As far as his military life, this cat is an NCO, at the very least a squad leader in the platoon---with a gaggle of fucking kids looking too him for leadership, meaning it's unavoidable that he will interact with some privates about some stupid shit that they did, that needs correction.
If you want me to believe that he does what he does at the end, you need to show me the intangibles of his relationship with his soldiers and build some empathy, make me believe what he believes--that he does his action to save lives. (Trying to avoid a spoiler here.)
The interpreter: you've got the line from his wife at the end--that is the twist, that is the point you should be building to, in order to fuck up the reader's illusions about how things are. But in order to do this, you need us to see how Stu sees it. This can not be a hair trigger decision, it needs to build--that means supporting events that get us thinking like Stu that something is fishy with our Haji interpreter. Make his decision seem inevitable, unavoidable.
You also should be careful with the forensic wrap-up--E5 Stu talking to an O4 in Military Intelligence would flag the incident and bring in the IG(Inspector General). Then we have the obvious problem of a 5.56mmround in an Afghan Contractor, when he was reported shot by the enemy--who tends not to fire NATO rounds.
My suggestion, instead of a SAW, throw in a M240B which fires 7.62mm rounds and makes for an easy out, avoiding questions of Blue on Green. Then have Stu call the last number on the Phone--he reaches the wife, she quotes the last thing she said and Stu is undone.
Flesh it out, build a world and put me in it. You can't just report the facts.
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