Green On Blue
The complexities and irrationality of the Iraq-Afghan wars bleed onto the pages of the debut novel, GREEN ON BLUE, by Elliot Ackerman.
Told through the eyes of a young Afghan orphan-turned-soldier, the book portrays the complexities of the conflict in the Middle East and sheds light not only on our vast differences, but most impressively, on our shared humanity.
Authorlink spoke with author Elliot Ackerman on his recent book tour through Dallas. We discussed his motivation for writing the book, his thoughts on America’s role in the Afghan war, and the challenges he faced in writing and publishing his first novel. See VIDEO interview.
Elliot Ackerman spent eight years as a CIA Paramilitary Officer and a Marine Corps Special Operations Officer, earning the Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. As the chief paramilitary officer of a 300 person tribal army working for the U.S. government, Ackerman’s comrades were not American but Afghan soldiers. These are men who will likely never have the opportunity to share their story, but in GREEN ON BLUE, Ackerman gives them a voice.
Inspired by Ackerman’s Special Ops experiences embedded with tribal armies in Afghanistan, GREEN ON BLUE is told from the first person perspective of Aziz, an Afghan orphan recruited by the Special Lashkar, a US-funded militia, after his brother Ali is brutally wounded in a bombing. Driven by nang and badal (honor and revenge) and desperate to protect his now crippled older brother, Aziz departs for the untamed border. He quickly discovers that he is trapped in a conflict both savage and entirely contrived as the lines between ally and enemy become blurred beyond distinction. And as he makes the heartbreaking revelation that there is no end in sight, Aziz struggles to understand his place and questions whether he can continue fighting for a cause that is threatening to destroy him. Will he succumb to the brutality of war or attempt to flee, jeopardizing the life of his brother and a young woman he’s come to love?
The book has been praised by bestselling authors such as Khaled Hosseini, New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner, who said: Green on Blue is harrowing, brutal, and utterly absorbing. With spare prose, Ackerman has spun a morally complex tale of revenge, loyalty, and brotherly love. The saga of young Aziz is a chilling and often disturbing glimpse into one of the world’s most troubled regions.”
“Gripping, revelatory, and morally complex, GREEN ON BLUE, provides a window into a remote world rarely captured in fiction. In this stunning debut, Ackerman “has performed that most difficult of all military operations – the achievement of radical empathy” (Roxana Robinson).
The Story Behind GREEN ON BLUE
I started writing this novel a few months after my last tour in Afghanistan, nearly eight years after I left for my first tour, in Iraq. I was driven by a visceral need to tell Aziz’s story, a story of imagination but one inspired by the men and friends I’d come to know as an advisor to Afghan soldiers. I’d returned from my wars, but my war buddies were not a bunch of guys I could keep up with on Facebook, call long distance, or get beers with at the local VFW. They were Afghan soldiers. We’d fought together, bled together, mourned friends together. And yet trapped as they were in Afghanistan’s elliptical conflict, I knew I’d never see them again. To reckon with that loss, I wrote this book to illumine their world in a last act of friendship.
Wars aren’t fought by nations but by people—and, ultimately, they’re fought within the human heart. I’ve never thought of Green on Blue as a war novel, at least not in the traditional sense. The book is about family, friendship, betrayal, the choices we make when doing what is right seems impossible. These themes are recognizable to anyone who’s sacrificed for what they love.
The novel’s title refers to the ubiquitous insider attacks which have become the hallmark of the Afghan War—green being American military slang for indigenous forces, blue for its own. It’s also a metaphor for the journey taken by several of my characters. What happens when the cause you fight for threatens to destroy you? That’s Aziz’s story and the story of my Afghan friends who, consumed by their war, likely will never have the chance to read this novel.
What you hold in your hands is my best attempt at a portrait of who they are and the world they live in.
About the Author
Elliot Ackerman is based out of Istanbul, where he writes on the Syrian Civil War. His novel Green on Blue is forthcoming from Scribner and his fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone among others. He is also a Contributing Editor at The Daily Beast. In 2013, the Diplomatic Courier placed him on their global list of the “Top 99 Under 33 Influential Foreign Policy Leaders.” He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been interviewed in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal and appeared on Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report, NPR Talk of the Nation, Meet the Press, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera and PBS News Hour among others.
Most recently, he served a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. Prior to this, he spent eight years as a CIA Paramilitary Officer and a Marine Corps Special Operations Officer. He has served multiple tours of duty in the Middle East and South West Asia. As a Marine Corps Special Operations Team Leader, he operated as the primary combat advisor to a 700-man Afghan commando battalion responsible for capture operations against senior Taliban leadership. He also led a 75-man platoon that aided in relief operations in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Ackerman is a decorated veteran, having earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role leading a Rifle Platoon in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah and a Bronze Star for Valor while leading a Marine Corps Special Operations Team in Afghanistan in 2008.
Ackerman holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and studied literature and history at Tufts University where he graduated, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 2003. He has completed many of the U.S. Military’s most challenging special operations training courses and completed his officer training as the number one ranked lieutenant out of over 200 other Marine Corps Officers. He is the recipient of the Major General Edwin B. Wheeler Award for Infantry Excellence.