Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body

A Marine's Unbecoming


By Lyle Jeremy Rubin

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An honest reckoning with the war on terror, masculinity, and the violence of American hegemony abroad, at home, and on the psyche, from a veteran whose convictions came undone

When Lyle Jeremy Rubin first arrived at Marine Officer Candidates School, he was convinced that the “war on terror” was necessary to national security. He also subscribed to a strict code of manhood that military service conjured and perpetuated. Then he began to train and his worldview shattered. Honorably discharged five years later, Rubin returned to the United States with none of his beliefs, about himself or his country, intact. 

In Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body, Rubin narrates his own undoing, the profound disillusionment that took hold of him on bases in the U.S. and Afghanistan. He both examines his own failings as a participant in a prescribed masculinity and the failings of American empire, examining the racialized and class hierarchies and culture of conquest that constitute the machinery of U.S. imperialism. The result is a searing analysis and the story of one man’s personal and political conversion, told in beautiful prose by an essayist, historian, and veteran transformed. 


Reconciling empire and liberty—based on the violent taking of Indigenous lands—into a usable myth allowed for the emergence of an enduring populist imperialism. Wars of conquest and ethnic cleansing could be sold to “the people”—indeed could be fought for by the young men of those very people—by promising to expand economic opportunity, democracy, and freedom for all.

—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


What follows constitutes as honest a reckoning with my living past as I could muster. The names of family members and public figures have remained the same. All others have been changed, though I’ve tried my best to stay true to the spirit of their real ones. Identifying details have also, on occasion, been altered. And in cases of uncertainty, discrete events might be out of order in ways that don’t detract from the underlying reality.

During the past two decades, it has become customary for officials, journalists, and others to capitalize “marine” when referring to individual members of the United States Marine Corps. I have chosen instead to adhere to the style standards more commonly in use prior to September 11, 2001, for reasons I hope will become apparent.


When talking to high school and college students across New York about my military odyssey, there is a story I often tell. It’s about watching a half dozen marines level a corner of a remote desert hamlet near a small, platoon-sized outpost in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in December 2010. I’m with one of my teams of four or five SIGINT guys, along with something like thirty to forty grunts, mostly young men on the tail end of their combat deployment. They’re bored and bitter on most days, but at that moment they’re excited to play with some powerful, underutilized toys before heading back to the United States. The exact pretext eludes me, but it has something to do with stray early-morning enemy rounds whizzing by our general vicinity. It’s called harassing fire and it happens all the time, to us and by us. This time, if my memory isn’t betraying me, it is happening to us. I do not feel threatened, but it is possible the grunts, who have been through much more than I have and are so close to making it home, do.

As I recount the tale to various audiences, I try to leave them with an indelible counterpoint to the usual heroics they’ve become so familiar with in the popular culture—or the standard pitch they’ve already heard from a local recruiter. This requires me to be nothing more or less than honest. I’ve nonetheless found, through years’ worth of visits facilitated by an anti-war outfit in New York City, that there’s no easy or obvious way to be honest. The shape of truth, as well as the meaning of it, tends to melt in the face of guilt-soaked recollections. There are so many reasons to forget or mitigate a past that haunts, to turn it into something digestible so that you can go on living, more or less, like everyone else. But if you’re self-reflective, these retrospective corrections themselves will haunt you, until you come to doubt your memories altogether.

So, as a means to avoid outright lying, I’ve fallen into a strict routine of confession management. This means telling the same story over and over again, just as I told it the time before, and the time before that, going all the way back to the first time I told it, in an unsuspecting secondary school somewhere, impromptu and raw. And if, after being drawn back to buried photographs or dusty notes from the war, I discover an inaccuracy, I modify as required.

What I can say for certain is that the return fire on our part was disproportionate. The incoming rounds subsided within fifteen to twenty minutes after they started, yet the marines kept firing back with increasingly crippling firepower for what felt like (and still feels like) an eternity.

A piece I published years ago has the marines starting off with their M4 rifles, then an M249 small machine gun, then an M240 medium machine gun, then a Mk 19 grenade launcher, then an AT4 anti-tank weapon, then an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile, and then the vehicle-mounted BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile. And I’ve stuck with this combination ever since.

I’ve learned to add a few descriptors in the telling of this story. The M249 is the squad automatic weapon (SAW), the machine gun allotted to a single marine in each four-man fireteam of a thirteen-man infantry squad. The 240 is usually called a “240 GOLF” for the NATO phonetic G in its M240G specification, although I’ve never bothered to learn what the specification specifies. The Mk 19 is pronounced “MARK NINETEEN,” and each rapid-fire round is a grenade; I ask the room to imagine the impact of such a machine. Marines rarely use the AT4 to immobilize tanks—the enemy isn’t getting around in tanks—but they do use it often and at a cost: each unit goes for well over a grand and is made inoperable after a single use. Unlike the AT4, which is an unguided rocket that lands in the rough neighborhood of wherever you aim it, the Javelin and TOW are guided missiles, which means their aim is computerized and precise. How precise the weapon’s user is in determining the target is another matter. As for pricing, the weapon systems themselves hover above and below one hundred thousand dollars, respectively, with each missile costing around the same.

Recently, I looked back at my relevant wartime scribbles and spotted an entry that cataloged the event in question, and I noted a discrepancy in the weaponry involved. Instead of having the AT4 listed as the fifth item, my notes had listed the M2 .50 caliber machine gun. The 50-cal is a tremendous force, and I’m baffled how I could have mistaken it for an AT4. Memory of this lacerating kind, I guess, speaks in a broken tongue.

There were other discrepancies with the story I tell. According to my notes, three locals approached the base sometime after we’d leveled their village to complain about the wounding of two women. My civilian linguist, a middle-aged Afghan American who had once fought as mujahideen against the Soviets not too far off from where we then stood, did the interpreting at the post’s entry point, and I watched from a distance as the four conversed with a well-practiced ferocity. As my linguist reenacted the exchange for me later: “I told them, sir, ‘You lie about not having control of who gets in and out of your town! I am a Pashtun—I know you have power over who is allowed and who is not allowed!’” In other words, it was the villagers’ fault for letting the Talibs operate in their village.

I didn’t remember the discussion until becoming reacquainted with it in my notes. And though I’d had some conception of my linguist interpreting at a distance, I had told myself one of the women was not injured but dead. This is also what I told the high school students during my initial confrontation with my war experience in a New York City classroom. I’d like to think I would have known, with all the marrow in my bones, whether I was an accessory to murder or just an accessory to attempted murder. But I did not.

The notebook contained other details, documented but forgotten: “The Texan” ragging on his friend, “the spic.” An IED detector dog growling at “the spic.” Others chortling at their presumed friend, “the spic.” The ranking staff sergeant, someone who also would have been deemed a “spic” were it not for his authority, atop the vehicle turret where the TOW system was mounted, peering out through his binoculars and pointing into the unfortunate beyond of frenzied black, gray, and white dots, with nothing but a contagious electricity, his flak jacket and Kevlar helmet nowhere to be found. The 50-cal loosely attached to its tripod mount, the gunner or someone next to him shouting, “Some random hajji just got hit!” Everyone running away from the Javelin’s back-blast area, fingers in ears. My Afghan American linguist running up to the berm to see the battle damage. “Missiles fired from infidel post! Village side!” says the enemy radio traffic. A marine with a glow-in-the-dark yo-yo, flinging it up and down, up and down. A cookie still baking in a makeshift kitchen corner. One of my marines looking like Groucho Marx but not knowing Groucho Marx. Another enemy radio transmission—“Nobody hit.” Someone babbling about how Susan Boyle sells. Another marine humming to himself and anyone within earshot the old Vietnam War–era ditty “Napalm sticks to kids, napalm sticks to kids, napalm sticks to kids…” The TOW colliding against the faraway mud wall but failing to explode. “Let’s send another downrange!” someone says. “If you hit any of the murder holes, there’s a bad guy there,” the staff sergeant says in reference to the holes that riddle the wall, holes used by those we’ve made the enemy, holes where they insert the barrels of their AK-47s and murder good men like us. “Go for any of the murder holes!” And at some juncture toward the TOW missile finale, all of us, me included, with our cameras or smartphones up in the air like mesmerized concertgoers, snapping and filming in awe.



Damn men… either want to hurt somebody or be hurt.

—John Updike

The baggage claim area of Reagan National Airport, a winter afternoon in 2006. The economical drop ceiling of the building’s ground floor reminded me of grade school, and the rows of yellow stanchions stood firm like bored soldiers. After grabbing my hard-shell backpack and predictable duffel bag, I made my way over to the marine liaison team about half a football field away. They were instructing the Officer Candidate School recruits to arrange themselves into a model rectangle, which was taking up a significant portion of the walkway between the baggage carousels and the street-level exits. Civilians had to navigate around them, some taking a moment to stare. I stared, too—in fascination and trepidation.

In the preceding months, I’d worked with an Officer Selection Officer and joined other would-be marines at a Military Entrance Processing Station physical exam in New Orleans. I’d run a physical fitness test with these same aspirants in Atlanta. But, unlike a good number of them, I didn’t come from a military family or town or school. I had never enrolled in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. I hadn’t even played a team sport beyond freshman year of high school, when I took a shot at soccer, wrestling, and baseball. Military-style culture wasn’t something I’d had much opportunity to breathe in, even secondhand.

That afternoon, there were many reasons to be embarrassed, but my decision to wear a fluorescent-orange polo shirt ranked highest. My conspicuousness was compounded by the fact that officer dress regulations required me to tuck the shirt into my belted slacks, like a college Republican. This shouldn’t have been a problem since I was a college Republican, but I’d previously managed to resist the aesthetic. Now I was more than just a college Republican. I was headed to Marine OCS in Quantico, Virginia, for an initiation that would launch me on a winding five-year quest through the US military. I was about to become what college Republicans had been elevating to the level of sainthood for decades, especially since the attacks of September 11. I would soon be one of the troops.

When I joined the rectangle of young men also wearing tucked-in polo shirts, the stares from passersby felt overwhelming. The marines in charge ordered us to stand at attention an arm’s length from one another’s shoulders, in silence. Or had the silence been self-imposed? In any case, it was a silence fraught with apprehension. Most of the other candidates struck me as running backs, third basemen, a boxer or two. As I snuck glances to my left and right, I also got the impression that they had been here before. They were nervous, without a doubt. But they were accustomed to it. They knew how to stand straight without jittering. They had better eye control. As for me, I couldn’t stop my gaze from darting in every direction. Eventually, I focused my eyes on the ground, toward my penny loafers.

Whenever I try to recount the bus ride from the airport to the OCS Marine Corps Base in Quantico, I mix it up with my later bus ride to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Both were quiet and lonely journeys, though the one to the notorious island was downright terrifying. The marines ushering us to either destination weren’t friendly, but in the latter case, they were ferocious. They ordered us to fix our vision to the floor of the bus, if not for the entire trip, then for a sizable portion of it. I got it in my head that this was meant to prevent us, based on what we noted on the way, from planning an escape route. The thought sounds silly in hindsight, but it speaks to the presiding mood. The movement from the airport to Quantico involved a similar protocol of staring at our shoes, at least toward the end, as we off-ramped I-95. The mood was much the same.

After the bus ride came in-processing, a limitless fog. We were shepherded from one hallway, classroom, or warehouse to the next. Our squad bays were blocks of bed space, rows of symmetrical bunks jutting toward the center aisle at their feet ends. Gear or uniform supply here, medical or insurance paperwork there. If I said anything during the excruciating lulls in line, it wasn’t memorable.

The whole bay, made of red brick on the outside and off-white-painted concrete within, was the shape of an elongated Tic Tac box resting on its side, with a narrow walkway dividing the starboard racks from those on the port side. It was upon that linoleum strip, almost tubular in its claustrophobic effect, that our sergeant instructors made their entrance.

Pandemonium defined the hour. And the hour after the hour. And the hour after that. That first week—hell week—never really came to a close. When, in the technical sense, it did, it was followed by another week just like it. And another after that. Had I been less out of my element, part of the majority who had experienced anything remotely like this before, I imagine the vertigo would have been less severe. But I wasn’t, so everything ran into everything else like a continuous track of colliding trains.

The instructors commanded us to dump our belongings onto the parade deck (where we would practice close-order drill and one day, if we were lucky, graduate), then flung our items—hundreds of them—every which way, in a reckless ferment. We were then ordered to recoup, to make ourselves whole. And we did. Out in the wide-open wintry sun, we dashed and fumbled and barged through one another to retrieve what we could. We couldn’t have had more than a minute. I was one of the few to fall, after running into someone, after someone ran into me. I retrieved very little. So much of what I had purchased in advance, after poring over past candidates’ packing lists, was lost. The Lotrimin. The six-inch ruler. The premade name stencils. All four black erasable pens. All lost that day on the unforgiving blacktop of the deck. What flowed from that day was nothing but more fumbling, more loss. All of us men flailing about, and me coming up shorter each time.

To be made to feel so lost is to become small. To be made small is to see everything anew. The world became a jungle of bigger, more aggressive beasts, and steering my inappreciable frame through their marked territories became my only task. In high school, I had been one of the small ones, made to feel even smaller than my physique warranted. Once at officer school, though, my renewed smallness took on a different cast. Presentiments of danger, once familiar, returned with a vengeance. But in the intervening years, my perceptions had changed. Although I was surrounded again by beasts, they were at first caring and careful ones. As one day gave way to the next, they became more and less than that. They became clumsy beasts, scared beasts, and self-conscious beasts, unsure of how beastly to be and when. From the vantage of my smallness, I was able to spot movements or gestures no one else could see. Because I’d been made into something insignificant enough to be stepped on or discarded, I came alive to every motion or expression as a matter of survival, as a way of preventing the worst from happening. Or if the worst was going to happen regardless, there was still nothing left but to observe and wait. In that waiting, a stoic, almost religious waiting, a waiting divorced from spite, I came to empathize with the fragilities of those around me. Our uneasiness about ourselves varied from person to person, but we were all blundering in similar ways.

Admittedly, my blundering trended toward the exceptional. Perhaps it was for that reason I’d become a target of the command. The colonel, fond of chewing on literal straw while uttering things like “You don’t belong in my gun club,” wasn’t having any of his superior’s orders to lower the attrition rate, and so gave his instructors free rein. One of their favorite strategies for separating the wheat from the chaff became sleep deprivation, and their go-to tactic: assigning written essays.

At night, while my peers enjoyed their rest, I would sit solo in my rack with my headlamp on and pump out essays on “The Failure to Instantaneously Obey Orders” or “Lack of Discipline.” These assignments spanned the gamut of violations, from improperly blousing my boots to improperly engaging in Marine customs and courtesies to improperly maintaining the standard of hygiene (I still hadn’t figured out how to shave every hair follicle on my face in the allotted time). The essays were to total precisely three hundred words and fit within strict margins and other formatting constraints and be written in pen. No scratch marks or other mistakes, whether in spelling or grammar, were allowed. If a single error was found, or if an instructor located one where none existed, the essay was to be rewritten.

What I submitted each time is too long gone and suppressed to recover. I do know that I got into the habit of regurgitating the general utterances of my instructors, but in a rhyme and rhythm all my own. If we were told hesitation or disobedience would lead to combat casualties on our side, I would rhapsodize about “narcissistic refusals” and “needless blood.” If we were told undisciplined behavior would result in mission failure, I would sing something to the tune of “incontinent conduct” or “bungled results.” I was miserable then, half-conscious mostly, and not at all in a state to piece together the next great American novel—or even the next great American dos and don’ts list. But even in such a state of degradation, I clung to the whimsical possibilities of language as a means of provisional escape.

At that point, the grueling physical, academic, and leadership demands became too much for some, and targeted candidates either dropped out on request or failed out, short the minimum requirements to make it to the next week of training. I was too wedded to a Hollywood version of Rudy-like perseverance to quit, so I kept placing one foot in front of the other, expecting that failure would come soon enough. After all, there was so much I failed at.

Since no one had taught me any manual labor (and I had never bothered to teach myself), I was awful at playing the part of the breakneck weapons mechanic. My typing fingers may have been somewhat blessed, but my hands were weak. When it came time to disassemble and reassemble our M16A2 rifles, I was always the solitary contestant left lousing up the removal and insertion of the handguards. The steel or aluminum slip notched tight between the lower and upper receivers (the part of the gun with the trigger handle and, above that, the ejection port) and the handguards (the long section where your nontrigger hand lay during fire). This ring kept the bottom and upper halves of the plastic guards in place, and to disassemble them, we had to push it down far enough to loosen each guard. I could never, with the rifle in its most vertical position, press the slip ring hard enough to allow the bottom indents of the guards to slide in or out. It was like being asked to bear down on the total weight of the earth’s surface using just your thumbs. Yet everyone else in the squad bay had somehow mastered this impossible craft.

During drill, I’d touch my face or yawn and sigh and let my eyes wander. I’d hold my rifle with the thumb a millimeter too far from the pointer or my elbows bent in a fifty-degree angle instead of a forty-five. I’d move an inch too much during the lectures or neglect to eat while sitting with a perfectly straight back. I drank with the cup in the wrong hand or poured my drink into the cup in the first place. I had trouble requesting my options at the mess hall within the allotted half seconds or eating what needed to be eaten within the allotted four minutes. I couldn’t fold my uniforms properly within the few seconds allowed. I couldn’t do anything within any of the times allotted.

The more I failed, the more intent the instructors became on making sure I failed some more. They’d flip my tray in the chow hall right before physical training or pull me out of formation to do another interminable round of diamond push-ups with my ALICE pack on my back. During our five-minute bathroom breaks, in a sleep-deprived daze, I’d misplace my razor and never have my fresh clothes prepped. I’d lose a precious minute rushing back to my rack for this or that correction, and gain another chewing out for malingering by our sergeant. Nervous after the scolding, I’d drop toothpaste or fumble a T-shirt; I then could do nothing but bend down amid a hyperactive squall of bare bodies to retrieve it. If the T-shirt happened to land in an unsanitary puddle, so much the worse. I struggled to slip on my socks within three seconds or to throw on my entire utility uniform, blouse and trousers and bootstraps included, within forty-five seconds. Sometimes I’d find myself on the line at the cutoff point standing side by side with perfectly groomed men who stood at perfect attention, while I was unshowered, unrelieved, uncropped, and unclothed.

“You privileged scum!” the instructors would hiss and spit. “You really think we’re going to commission a lost little boy like yourself! You really think we’re going to hand it to you like everything else handed to you in your easy life!”

Shitting might have been the only thing I wasn’t worst at. All our shits were nonhuman, like unceremonious birds pelleting. There were no stalls; we shat in the open, so even our shits were chagrined.

From my attic in West Hartford, Connecticut, we could see the whole wide world. The thinned tree line guarding the grass lot. A squirrel chasing after her secret purpose. Patches of grass, some browned but still alive, enjoying the green weather.

In the distance, oceans of air away, the beige vinyl siding of a Colonial peeked from between the branches and the dark. Birds neither of us could name sang their songs as a breeze lifted a few threaded hairs on Ian’s scalp.

“Grab me another of the brown sugars,” I said.

“Nope,” he said.

“C’mon, man. You know I never get ’em.”

“Nope,” he said.

“Fine, then… the strawberry.”

“Nope,” he said.

Ian had been cultivating a new sense of humor. It consisted of wielding power over those nearest to him while smirking.

Once the obligatory pause to play up the tension had passed, my friend handed me a Pop-Tart—one of the brown sugars. I broke off the first corner and let it melt in my mouth like a sacrament, then glanced over at the water balloons.

“I like the orange one,” I said.

“You like everything orange,” he said. Orange, for reasons I’ve since forgotten, was my favorite color.

“I like your mom,” I said.

“My mom isn’t orange.”

We sat for a moment in silence.

“So you gonna drop one or what?” Ian said. He was growing impatient. It had been hours and the only life-forms we’d spotted were nonhuman. At this point he just wanted to see a splash. Some action. The measliest of destructions.

“You really want to waste one? It’s not even noon. Brian and Dunn will come along. And then we make it rain.” I liked the sound of that. MAKE IT RAIN.

Ian pointed his Super Soaker 200 at the latest squirrel: “Boom.”

Dead space again.

“All right,” he said, “let’s drop one. I’m bored as fuck.”

“Okay,” I said, and reached for the orange balloon.

“I drop the first one,” he said.

“Nah,” I said.

Then I dropped it.


It was all right. But I wanted more mayhem. More shrapnel. The bomb hadn’t even made it to the stone wall abutting the driveway, my target.

“My turn,” Ian said. He smiled like a poker joker as he strutted to the corner and snagged the blue one. The world was his.

“Watch this,” he said.

I hung my head out, anticipating the havoc below. But before I could say, “Let’s see what you got,” my face and tee were splattered.

“Very funny,” I said. “Good thing you’re my best friend.”

“Best friends forever,” he said.

It was hot—still summer—so there was no problem drying off. Ian and I talked movies, Lion King, Forrest Gump, the second Die Hard


  • “[Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body] demonstrates that events on the periphery will always affect the center, and vice versa. Wars fought abroad will always come home. Rubin’s moral injury is shared by everyone. One Marine’s unbecoming becomes a nation’s.... [Yet Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body] is a hopeful one at its heart.... This is Rubin’s own civilizing mission, traversing the civilian-military chasm, memoir in one hand, mirror in the other.”—Washington Post
  • “This is not your ordinary military memoir. It is not often that one experiences a truly original mind, a way of thinking combined with literary skill and grounded in hard learned humility, but that is Lyle Jeremy Rubin on his path from acting as an instrument of empire to deconstructing it and understanding the true meaning of freedom, community, and ethics. Never has a takedown of militarism, capitalism, and empire been more powerful and persuasive.”—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
  • “An instant classic of antiwar literature, Rubin’s stunning coming-of-age story as a US Marine is an absorbing look at how imperial masculinity is made through personal experience and psychic transformation. But the book doubles as a political reflection on how to achieve a critical perspective on our times in a forgetful country. This is a must-read—especially for Americans who rely on the service of others without owning the damaging results.”—Samuel Moyn, author of Humane
  • “Few people have traced the connections between masculinity, American empire, and the ailments of our republic with as much unflinching grace as Rubin. Give this book to the angry young men in your life.”—Matthieu Aikins, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of The Naked Don’t Fear the Water
  • “Both a gut-wrenching portrait of the psychic, physical, sexual, and structural violence of American imperialism and a powerful conversion story of transformation from enthusiastic foot soldier to incisive internal critic of American empire. In a moment calling for reckoning with the ravages of America’s wars at home and abroad, this is a worthwhile read.”—Adom Getachew, author of Worldmaking after Empire
  • “This is no equivocal or evasive military memoir, content to agonize over war’s dehumanization but unwilling to name the exploitative, extractive, and racist forces that drive it. Rubin’s experiences compel him to see his enemy as the socioeconomic system that rots America out and drives it to dominate the world.”—Spencer Ackerman, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of Reign of Terror
  • “What’s a nice neocon kid and AIPAC intern doing in a place like the US Marine Corps? Having his worldview shattered and coming to see American life in a new way, as it turns out. Rubin’s memoir is more about his changing perception than his combat experience. Original, thoughtful, sometimes raw, and often provocative.”—Stephen Kinzer, author of Poisoner in Chief
  • “In recounting his own personal path into and out of the military, Rubin beautifully intertwines memoir, political analysis, and sweeping history. In the process, he offers a powerful articulation of the cycles of violence and discontent generated time and again, both at home and abroad, by the US security state. The result is essential reading for all concerned Americans.”—Aziz Rana, author of Two Faces of American Freedom
  • “Rubin has written much more than a riveting war story, which brings him from boot camp to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province to kill or be killed. Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body is a distressing, humane, searching story of coming of age in 21st-century America — of joining the ranks of the angry privileged, of seeking to dominate but, in time, learning to listen. Engrossing to the last word.”—Stephen Wertheim, author of Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy
  • “Weakness might or might not leave the body, but wisdom and empathy flow in upon reading Rubin’s gripping account of his time as a post–9/11 soldier. Rubin’s book is an intellectual and moral challenge, a war memoir that forces the reader to wrestle as much with ideas as with battle stories. Rubin’s beautiful, Hemingway-esque clipped cadence is perfect for trying to make sense of our baroque, wounded world.”—Greg Grandin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The End of the Myth
  • “Like Orwell in ‘Shooting an Elephant,’ Rubin is disgusted by the work he did for a colonizing empire, and yet he remains fascinated by the thinking that brought him there. In shape-shifting prose both narrative and philosophical, Rubin shows the deep connections between masculinity and militarism as they play out in his own life and the larger world in which the American empire operates. This a book full of pain, weakness, and bodies, but it is wise enough to know that only the bodies are ever really gone.”—Baynard Woods, author of Inheritance
  • “A fierce denunciation of a pointless war.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Lyle Jeremy Rubin’s Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body is an astounding book. Part searing memoir, part unsparing historical and political inquiry, and part literary and philosophical odyssey, Rubin’s book is by turns erudite and raw, and held together by prose at once elegant and unwavering. As a meditation on war, masculinity, and identity—both personal and national—there is nothing else like it.”—Patrick Blanchfield, author of forthcoming Gunpower: The Structure of American Violence
  • “Thoughtful… [Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body] is, in many ways, a bildungsroman of the 9/11 generation.... The strength of this book is that its passages on [Rubin’s] yearning for violence, and his embarrassment at that yearning, are not the endpoints of his exploration, as they might be in the hands of other veterans. Yes, he is soul-searching, but the soul he examines most intensely is America’s, not his own.”—The Intercept
  • “[This] excellent new book-length reflection… on military training, socialization, and combat duty in the Middle East definitely won’t end up on the reading lists of college-level or junior ROTC programs, or even the US service academies. But many civilian readers will benefit from the policy critiques and personal insights found in…Lyle Jeremy Rubin’s Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body.”—Jacobin
  • “[A] fine memoir… [A] sign of a moral conscience fully alive.”—Slant Books
  • “Rubin recounts his path into the Corps in deeply personal anecdotes, stretching back into his youth as a confused, conservative suburban kid in 1990s Connecticut, through a failed first attempt at Officer Candidate Training School, to the hollowing experience of boot camp at Parris Island, then on through his path to war. That is a well-trodden storyline in American film and letters — a fact that in itself says a lot about the bloodiness of American history — Rubin brings a wider lens and a more cutting critical insight to it than most, weaving in a deep reading of not only U.S. imperial history but also race, labor struggles, and gender.”—Jonathan Katz, author of Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, in his newsletter The Racket

On Sale
Nov 1, 2022
Page Count
304 pages
Bold Type Books

Lyle Jeremy Rubin

About the Author

Lyle Jeremy Rubin is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who writes about capitalism and U.S. empire. He has a doctorate in history from the University of Rochester and has contributed to a variety of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Raritan, and n+1. When he is not working or reading, he likes to pay attention to the birds. 

Learn more about this author