‘Men were coming home on leave to find their wives gone from their houses,” David French writes about the strain of deployment on marriage. “Other men were getting the modern equivalent of the ‘Dear John’ letter via Facebook message or e-mail. Some guys discovered wives or girlfriends were pregnant, and still others were finding that their bank accounts had been looted by the very people they most trusted with their financial affairs. In fact, I would say that the ongoing betrayal of our men and women in uniform by their own family members is perhaps the most underreported scandal and toll of the war. It is an enduring symbol of the depravity of man and the fallen nature of our own culture.”
It’s the stark and gripping honesty that’s characteristic of Home and Away, the new book French co-authored with his wife, Nancy, about his time away and her time at home when he signed himself up for the Army Reserves and was deployed to Iraq. Both Nancy and David talk about the book with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why did you write this book? Did you each have different reasons?
DAVID FRENCH: We have perhaps the greatest wartime civil/military divide in our nation’s history, with less than 0.3 percent of Americans serving “downrange.” As a result, our military is serving an entire generation of Americans that is largely ignorant of the military experience — not just what it’s like in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also what it’s like for those left back home. We wanted to tell this story so that — in our own small way — we could help bridge that knowledge gap and preserve the memory of the men I served with.
LOPEZ: What was it like reading each other’s chapters?
NANCY FRENCH: We were able to e-mail one another during the deployment and had occasional phone calls. However, he wouldn’t tell me the details of his life — because I couldn’t handle it. Memorably, I learned that he was going “outside the wire” by reading an article on NRO. He didn’t tell me when he was going on missions or what his day-to-day life was really like. Instead, he always wanted me to tell him about life back home. So reading his chapters was an amazing insight into his year at war. It also helped me learn a little about the “band of brothers” who will forever be a part of his life — some of whom were murdered by terrorists in Iraq. It helped me realize and understand David’s grief a great deal more.
DAVID: As much as I tried to get Nancy to tell me everything that happened back home, our communications difficulties made that impossible. I’d just get short clips of news via instant message or e-mail. So learning, for example, the phrase “car trouble” meant “the gearshift pulled out of the car in the middle of the interstate” was a bit surprising. It was like reading each others’ diaries.
LOPEZ: Why write so openly about the strains on your marriage?
DAVID: To be honest, when I read that a husband and wife have written a book together, I think it’s likely to be a sentimental, sugar-coated tale of false marital bliss. But this book isn’t sentimental; it’s real. The harsh reality is that war places immense strains on marriages and family relationships, both during and — crucially — after deployments. To write about the war without writing about our own challenges wouldn’t be honest and it simply wouldn’t be credible to the military families reading the book.
LOPEZ: Do we share too much little stuff and not enough truly important things which might help one another in the toughest and even the most routine of circumstances?
DAVID: We do live in a strangely transparent era, don’t we? But at the end of the day we all still choose what we share and what we don’t share. We chose to share the challenges we faced as a family because it’s a part of the story of this war that most people will never hear or experience. We chose to share some of the quirky realities of life downrange because we want people to see soldiers not as caricatures or stereotypes but as the normal folks they are — friends and neighbors who made a critical decision to risk their lives for their country. Finally, we chose to share the story of their heroism and sacrifice because it should never, ever be forgotten.