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Roy Scranton's journalism, essays, and reviews have been published in Rolling Stone,, the New York TimesBoston Review, Los Angeles Review of BooksContemporary LiteratureThe Appendix, and elsewhere. He is one of the editors of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (Da Capo, 2013). His book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene is forthcoming from City Lights in the fall of 2015.

17 July 2014

Back to Baghdad

Baghdad by night (Karrada)
The smell hit me as I stepped off the plane: oil, diesel smog and the whiff of sulfur. Late at night and early in the morning, when the air is cleanest, this is what Baghdad smells like. As the day goes on, the odor thickens and turns metallic, until darkness falls and the fires start, filling the air with a pungent mélange of kebab and melted plastic. When I was here 10 years ago, the smell was mixed with the stench of corpses.

A week before, I’d been in a seminar room at Princeton, talking with my students about the Cold War, Don DeLillo’s Underworld and Whitney Houston’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The campus outside softly exhaled magnolia.

What the fuck was I doing back here? 

Continue reading at Rolling Stone, or pick up the new issue on newsstands July 18.


  1. Thanks for sharing your poignantly written story. Just finished reading it in this months Rolling Stone. Your perspective on this tragic war is critical in helping those of us who live in the comfort

  2. LeeAnn S03:59

    Thank you for writing this article.