He arrived earlier than anyone else, moved our tables into a circle so we could workshop together, and played Angry Birds on his cell phone while he waited for the class to begin. The only thing about him that hinted at his military background was the way he would sit – both hands flat on the table in front of him like he was sitting at attention.
During our class introductions, he mentioned that he had written two novels, and was working on a third. Seeing that he couldn’t be older than 30, my curiosity was piqued. Later that quarter, one of his short stories, “The Forgotten War,” was chosen for publication in the 2012 edition of UWT’s literary arts magazine, Tahoma West, where I spent time as the poetry editor.
Patrick Hardin’s stories are fast-paced and often violent; they tackle issues of moral ambiguity and the effects of being quickly plunged back into the “real” world after spending time in a war zone. He was deployed in Afghanistan in 2010, finished his service with the Army in 2011, and is currently a member of the National Guard.
While “The Forgotten War” is a more traditional narrative, most of Hardin’s stories are based in a parallel universe. Hardin agreed to sit down with me and so that I could learn more about how he was able to write science fiction while living in a combat zone.
The combination of creative impulse and wartime experience produced some of the greatest works of American literature. Authors like Hemingway, Salinger, Steinbeck and Wolff combat the stereotypical notions that the U.S. military is devoid of artistic talent and that creative writing is a pursuit of the weak. War shaped the writing of these authors, who in turn helped to establish American fiction as some of the best in the world.
Though what Hardin writes might not ever share the esteem of the works of Hemingway or Wolff, his fiction serves the same purpose as many of their front-line correspondences: to deal with the realities of war, to make his experiences more understandable to himself and in a way, more under his own control.
In a 2011 interview with Stanford University News, author Tim O’Brien talked about the ethics and difficulties of writing about war. Rather than writing about the details of combat or the “shoot ‘em up stuff,” he said, “What I end up writing about is aftermath stuff – what you end up carrying around for the rest of your life.” Such is also the case with Hardin’s work.
Hardin lived on military bases his entire childhood. His father was in the Air Force, and after fulfilling his contract and attending college, he re-enlisted in the Army as an officer.
Hardin says that he resented the military as he was growing up, but after attending community college in 2006 and receiving his AA degree in History, he realized that the only job options available to him were in the fast food industry. He knew that he needed to find a way out of his situation. “The military was the way for me to do that,” he said.
Hardin began writing fan fiction when he was thirteen years old. He wrote stories on different message boards, like GameFaqs, and in 2005 won a fan fiction contest on a well-known gaming website, mortalkombatonline.com. “After that,” he said, “I got inspired to write my own stuff.” It was then he started work on his first novel, a sci-fi story with a military backdrop.
It took him several years to finish the book, and once he was in the military, he realized that much of what he had written was naïve and incorrect. “I was a civilian looking in. When I finally did get in, I realized that all of my preconceptions were backwards and wrong.” So he rewrote it.
December 2008 found Hardin in Fort Drum, NY, where he trained as a combat medic in the 187th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. Fort Drum lies on the border between New York and Canada, and during the wintertime is “the most depressing place to live – ever,” as Hardin describes it.
He explained that when one is a brand new private, they are often “hazed” like aspiring fraternity pledges. To avoid this, he says, “I basically became a shut-in.” He stocked up on comic books and novels to help him pass the time in his room at night. “I became lost in my own little fantasy world in order to escape all of that.” He began work on his second book, a science fiction take on superheroes, The Post Moderns.
April 1, 2010, was a hard April Fool’s Day for Hardin. It was the day he would begin his year-long tour in Afghanistan. “All of the stories you hear about Afghanistan are true,” he says. “My unit and I had a rough time over there. We saw a crazy amount of contact.” They were in an infantry company by themselves in the middle of nowhere and “were just in the middle of [combat], all of the time.”
Shortly thereafter he was promoted to senior line medic and was transferred to Killaguy, Afghanistan, to a Hungarian-built Forward Operating Base (FOB). The American portion of the FOB wasn’t built yet, so for 25 days, his unit’s job was to build it.
“When you get back [to camp] you don’t have much to do at the end of the day. Some people watch movies or read, some people play video games, I just sat in my area and typed.” He was able to finish The Post Moderns during the rest of his deployment.
Today, Hardin has finished his contract with the Army and is now enlisted with the National Guard.
“The Forgotten War” is one of the first stories he has written since returning from Afghanistan. It’s not a science fiction piece; it is about a police officer’s encounter with a veteran in the grips of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He has also had a piece of artwork, a collage called “Don’t Thank Me,” displayed in the Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall. Both his short story and his artwork are a response to his experiences since returning home.
“If there is one thing that really gets under my skin, it’s when people thank me for my service. I know that they’re doing it to be nice, but I don’t think I deserve it. I had a rough time in Afghanistan, but I’m still with all of my limbs. I have no injuries, I’m not dead, and there are people that don’t have what I’ve got, and they and their families deserve more than I do.”
Still, Patrick has had to deal with the effects of combat and the day-to-day reality of reintegrating into a society that, for the most part, acts as though they are not at war. He admits that when coming home from Afghanistan, he didn’t have much time to process his experiences. “I was such in a hurry to get out, at the end of my term of service that I just swept it all under the rug and got out.”
His writing and art have been a way for him to uncover those experiences, and in doing so, process the things that he has survived. “My [art] is what makes me happy,” Hardin says.
When Patrick Hardin is finished at UWT, he plans on pursuing his Master’s degree. He hopes to teach creative writing or literature one day, and of course, to write. His short story, “The Forgotten War,” can be found in the 2012 edition of Tahoma West.