The Inspiration for Purple Heart

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working on an unusual peace demonstration—one that united Vietnam veterans with recent veterans from the war in Iraq and old-fashioned peaceniks. These unlikely groups were brought together by the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee.

As a group, we arranged more than 3,600 pairs of combat boots, each one tagged with the name of a soldier who’d died in Iraq or Afghanistan, in a display that was meant to symbolize the real human cost of the war. Nearby, we laid out a pile of civilian shoes to symbolize the uncounted men, women, and children who’d died in Iraq. One pair of shoes caught my eye. It was a pair of sneakers, just the right size for a ten-year-old boy. I instantly saw that boy being shot in the chest, his small body flung into the air from the force of the blast. As much as I tried to forget such a horrific image, I couldn’t. And so I spent the next few years imagining how such a thing could happen.

Purple Heart is a fictionalized look at that death, and how two young American soldiers may or may not have been involved in it. It isn’t an antiwar book. It isn’t a pro-war book. It’s an attempt to portray how three children─two eighteen-year-old Americans and a ten-year-old Iraqi boy─have been affected by war.

It’s estimated that more than 1.3 million civilians have died in Iraq. Because this war has been fought in cities, in and among families, civilian fatalities have become the “signature” of this conflict─causing profound moral conflict for soldiers and profound losses for those families.

I finished this book with as many questions as I had when I started. I came away with a deepened respect for our soldiers, a better appreciation of life in a war zone, and a strengthened commitment to peace. My hope is that you, as readers, have done the same.

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