Between The Lines

How Elliot Ackerman Came To Write Green On Blue


Credit: Peter van Agtmael

I started writing  Green on Blue  a few months after my last tour in Afghanistan, nearly eight years after I left for my first tour, in Iraq. I joined the Marines at eighteen and was commissioned as an officer in 2003 straight out of college, an interesting time with the invasion of Iraq that spring. I chose to serve because I didn’t want to spend my early twenties scouring spreadsheets at a bank or making photocopies at a law firm. For better or worse, I wanted a job with responsibility, where my performance mattered, and it did in the Marines—it mattered in terms of lives. Within a few years, I’d migrated over to special operations and the men under my command weren’t U.S. Marines but foreign soldiers, like the characters in my novel.

Green On Blue is a story of imagination—the journey of Aziz, a young Afghan solider—but one inspired by Afghans I’d come to know as an advisor in their army. Upon returning from my wars, I felt a visceral need to give Aziz a voice. Although I could keep up with my American war buddies—messages on Facebook, long distance calls, or an occasional beer at the VFW—this wasn’t possible among the Afghans. We’d fought together, bled together, mourned friends together. And yet trapped as they were in their country’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 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 that have become the hallmark of the Afghan War. 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. It is my best attempt at a portrait of who they are and the world they live in.

Green On Blue

Green On Blue

By Elliot Ackerman