Vets Capture War In Six Words

What if I asked you to tell me about a major experience in your life with just six words? Good, bad, ugly, funny, whatever, but you only get six words to do it. That challenge is what two vets, Mike Nemeth and Shaun Wheelwright, asked of their brothers and sisters in arms who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They asked them to describe what they’ve been through in six-word essays. The finished result will be the first crowd-sourced memoir about these conflicts called Six Word War.

Nemeth and Wheelwright did not invent the six-word essay. A famous example is attributed to Hemingway, “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” But Six Word War expands on this idea by collecting the voices and viewpoints of many. Together, they tell a story that no single one could capture on their own. Some vets sign their essays. Some are anonymous. Here are some examples:

I am tired of the goodbyes. 

Mom, can’t chat now. Rockets incoming. 

Deployed three years, but for what?

Boredom, Boredom, Sheer Terror, Boredom, Boredom. 

Where did I leave my pants?

Air so bad. Filter cigarette’s healthy.

Sometimes I wish I was back.

Stories untold

When I came across Six Word War, I couldn’t help but think of some of the stories troops have told me. Especially the one I couldn’t convince a soldier to share in his real world. Maybe six words would be big enough for him to have a voice and small enough to not make him feel exposed.

I also think about the soldier who helped me understand PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) None of his buddies wanted to talk about the subject. So he described his own PTSD and it was a painful experience for him. But afterwards, I’m happy to say that he found it helpful to open up a little. I wonder if other vets who struggle with their story would find it healing to share it in six words. The brevity forces you to focus. And again, maybe it’s small enough to not feel completely vulnerable or raw.

Submissions and possibilities

The Six Word War Kickstarter campaign has been funded (I participated) but they are still taking essay submissions for the next few weeks at the Six Word War site. If you know a vet, please share this with them. Give them a chance to be part of it. If you are vet, please consider doing this. Be heard.

Six Word War

I hope the book becomes wildly successful. Because one possible result would be greater understanding between civilians and military. At some point, all of these thousands of men and woman who have been through this unique experience return to civilian life. How much better will we all be with a little shared knowledge and empathy?

I also wonder about a possible “companion book” from the family’s point of view. What six words would a military spouse have? How about a ten-year-old boy who’s Dad has deployed for half his life? Military parents? Or any loved one who has held their breath when the evening news came on.

Imagine the conversations that could begin with just six words.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

25 thoughts on “Vets Capture War In Six Words

  1. Wow… only six words? I’ve been sitting here with a pen and notepad, trying. Six words, I’ve written over a hundred so far and can’t seem to cut it down to only six. It’s harder than you would think…

    • Roach, I know it’s hard. I made the title of this post six words long and that took a few tries 🙂 Maybe think of a specific story first. Or don’t try to capture it all in one essay, do a few different essays on different aspects. But please keep trying. I would love for you to be part of this!

  2. Sort of like the Marine in Korea, when a reporter asked him – “If I was God and could give you anything, what would you ask for?” The Marine looked up from chopping frozen beans out a can for dinner and said, “Give me tomorrow.”

  3. Love the idea of a companion book from the point of view of military families! As an Army wife, I’ve been composing them in my head since I first heard of them a few weeks ago. Hope somebody who isn’t me has the time/energy to do it 🙂

    • I think having the families’ perspective would really create a more complete picture. I was hoping Mike Nemeth and Shaun Wheelwright would do it. They’ve seen the suggestion because I sent them this post. Maybe if they hear from a few more people they’ll consider it. If you want to shoot them a quick message on facebook, this is the link:

      If they don’t do it, I also hope somebody who isn’t me has the time/energy to do it 🙂 In the meantime, please tell you husband I think him for his service and I thank you for yours as well.

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