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November 07, 2008

A Soldier's Face

Looking into their eyes and reading the comments, what struck me most was the way people seem to project their own feelings about the war onto these men, almost as though they were painting on a blank canvas. It was as though they themselves had ceased to matter.

So many strong emotions: fear, anger, hatred, protectiveness, exhaustion, pain, pride, sympathy, grief, tenderness ....

Love. Looking into those eyes, that is what I saw, over and over.

That is what I see on the pillow next to mine each morning, and the last thing I want to see before the light finally fades away in my last hour on earth.


lying there
I feel the night air coming in
through the open window

imagine it pushed back in waves
by the heat
coming off your skin

so self-contained -
unmoving

content for the moment, until
you turn and smile
into the darkness

and I drop like a stone into the deep water
and am lost forever

Posted by Cassandra at November 7, 2008 07:56 AM

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Comments

I know exactly what they're thinking.

"Take the damned picture and let me go someplace else."

Posted by: BillT at November 7, 2008 09:03 AM

Maybe.

Normally I would be the last person in the world to post something like this. I posted it for a reason - all the outraged comments.

I expected (from the comments) that when I looked at the photos, I would hate it, or find it awful, or think it was disrespectful or anti-war as a lot of these things tend to be.

But when I looked at it, I didn't see that at all.

I think I actually saw exactly the artist was trying to portray: that in a war, soldiers go off to fight and the people back home (on both sides) put all this stuff on their backs.

This is my take, at least.

The anti-war folks turn them into mindless dupes or children or helpless victims or deranged psycho killers.

But we tend to turn them all into heroes, and they're really not that either. Some are. And some are shit-heads, Bill. You know that. And most are decent folks trying to do a tough job: I think better men and women than I am. People like us.

So maybe we should not put our emotions and thoughts and political beliefs on them, but remember that they have a million stories to tell.

I hope one day we hear them.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2008 09:33 AM

Those are eyes that see and have seen. Those are eyes that speak knowingly. I have seen those eyes!

As opposed to those eyes forever condemned to merely look...

Posted by: vet66 at November 7, 2008 09:41 AM

Despite your warning, I was still taken aback by the comments. It never fails to amaze me, even after the last few years of hate-filled rhetoric blasting away at every turn on tv and the radio, just now much of a visceral reaction people can have. Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me, or call it naive if you want. I just can't understand such hate. I understand strong feelings...I choke up every time I hear the national anthem, and I won't go into my reaction to those wonderful emotionally laden Budweiser commercials with the soldiers walking through the airport and everyone clapping. Oh man, do I get strong emotional reactions. I just don't get such visceral hate for someone you've never met.

Of course, my lack of understanding for that type of reaction is probably why I didn't get along with my high school lit teacher. How can anyone tell me what the unknown author of "Ode to a Grecian Urn" really meant? How can those people assume what the photographer was wanting to say with her pictures? Without talking with her, what are we supposed to take away from it other than our own thoughts and feelings?

I suppose that those reactions reflect much more the individuals own psyche then the photographers. And that is just plain sad, and a bit scary.

Posted by: tankerswife at November 7, 2008 10:11 AM

I think what upsets people so is that the photos are so intimate, so intensely personal.

I couldn't look at them without crying.

I agreed with the comment that said, 'I would rather have seen these in a museum.'

But I am not so sure that putting them on a billboard is a bad thing. It is forcing people to confront the fact that we are at war, and this war has been so painful for so many people, but then there are those who don't even seem to understand that we are at war at all.

I am not sure what the right thing is.

But then that is the thing about a free society, isn't it?

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2008 10:18 AM

And some are shit-heads, Bill. You know that.

*a-HEM*

Interesting juxtaposition.

*grinnn*

Posted by: BillT at November 7, 2008 10:55 AM

You shoulda heard the comments this one raised...

http://www.fototime.com/%7B1DF82708-0E0B-4045-8109-C34D38ADC790%7D/picture.JPG

Posted by: BillT at November 7, 2008 11:02 AM

Based on the comments here, I think I'm going to have to pass on the comments there. It's a patience thing and I think I'm working from a glass half empty at the moment.

"So maybe we should not put our emotions and thoughts and political beliefs on them, but remember that they have a million stories to tell."
The shame of it is that the simple wisdom in that sentence seems beyond the reach of so many.

Posted by: bthun at November 7, 2008 11:25 AM

"You shoulda heard the comments this one raised...

http://www.fototime.com/%7B1DF82708-0E0B-4045-8109-C34D38ADC790%7D/picture.JPG

I'll offer a little tune to accompany the photo.

My Friday toast to all who serve!

Now back to the honey-do action items I trudge.

Posted by: bthun at November 7, 2008 11:38 AM

"So maybe we should not put our emotions and thoughts and political beliefs on them..."

People project.

When they see a photograph of someone, they imagine what they themselves would feel in a situation, rather than trying to imagine what the subject was feeling.

Most of the commenters have suddenly come face to face with "the troops" on a visceral rather than an intellectual level -- but they are totally unprepared for empathy on that level.

Posted by: BillT at November 7, 2008 11:59 AM

My husband is always after me to write a book, but I can never get excited enough about anything to do it. But one idea that I do think on from time to time is that when we go to war, there are really two wars being fought at the same time: the one on the battlefield and a second one back home in the media and in the hearts and minds of the public.

On some levels, this shadow war does just as much damage and is every bit as important as the one unfolding on the battlefield.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2008 12:16 PM

Of course, my lack of understanding for that type of reaction is probably why I didn't get along with my high school lit teacher. How can anyone tell me what the unknown author of "Ode to a Grecian Urn" really meant? How can those people assume what the photographer was wanting to say with her pictures? Without talking with her, what are we supposed to take away from it other than our own thoughts and feelings?

I believe it helps to study the author's history and life experiences. If you can analyze their character and construct a consistent and accurate psychological profile of their motivations and weaknesses then you can more accurately predict and analyze their motivations and meanings.

But we tend to turn them all into heroes, and they're really not that either. Some are. And some are shit-heads, Bill. You know that.

Blue Falcons=wannabe Murthas, so des neh?

On some levels, this shadow war does just as much damage and is every bit as important as the one unfolding on the battlefield.

This ties in with what I was speaking about concerning internal and external enemies on the previous thread. Certainly shadow wars are as important, if not more important, than the one fought in the open. It takes much higher levels of perception and empathy to fight a war that few know about it than it is to fight a war that everybody knows about and wants a part in. THe former has higher constraints (like Black Ops), while the latter has higher resources available to be used. The former, however, requires much more efficient and smarter tactics and strategy.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 7, 2008 12:57 PM

It takes much higher levels of perception and empathy to fight a war that few know about it than it is to fight a war that everybody knows about and wants a part in.

Or the one that everybody knows about and *doesn't* want a part in.

The President-elect has promised a 25% reduction in defense spending. His Veep-elect has assured us that America will still have the advanced weaponry needed to protect our shores *and* the troops will continue to receive the equipment they need.

Weapons procurement is only 30% of the budget. The majority of the remainder is infrastructure maintenance and personnel costs.

Translation: Troop reductions -- big ones -- in wartime...

Posted by: BillT at November 7, 2008 04:14 PM

BillT,
The war is over. Didn't you get the memo?

Further expectations:
Reduce number of Carrier Battlegroups/ cuts in the Navy.
Halt most R&D and procurement programs; they get spooled down. Except the stupid ones in some Democrat's state or district.

Base closures.

Big drawdown of troops in Iraq within 18 months. Troop reductions will follow. Do we get out of Kosovo now?

Eliminate SDI, and all associated research.

Mothball/scrap most of the manned strategic deterence force (B-52's, B-1's, B-2's).

Scrap 50% of the remaining nuclear warheads, unilaterally. Shut down and scrap or mothball any facilities involved in nuclear weapons research or production.

Peace has broken out. All is well.

I wonder if the rest of NATO will get a thrill up their collective legs. Heh.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 7, 2008 04:41 PM

Do we get out of Kosovo now?

Or Haiti? Or Bosnia? Prolly not -- those were Dem initiatives.

Except the stupid ones in some Democrat's state or district.

Meaning not many.

Base closures.

Except the stupid ones in some Democrat's state or district.

Scrap 50% of the remaining nuclear warheads, unilaterally. Shut down and scrap or mothball any facilities involved in nuclear weapons research or production.

Which means US nuclear weapons all go away within about ten years -- the warheads have a limited shelf-life.

Pretty ambitious. Looks like a surefire recipe for bringing back the draft, too. Those additional brigades they said they'd send to Af-stan won't just spring up at the behest of Cadmus...

Posted by: BillT at November 7, 2008 05:16 PM

"Which means US nuclear weapons all go away within about ten years -- the warheads have a limited shelf-life." -BillT

By Jove, I think he's got it!!

Peace in our time!

That's the plan, big guy. No more Tritium, no more trigger mechanisms, no more nukes. Barack Obama, man of peace.
He said he wanted a nuke-free world, and we (the US) are going to lead the way. Did you think he was kidding?? Hosannah!

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 7, 2008 05:43 PM

thanks for sharing...

though i didnt care for the male soldier wearing makeup... (any more than a recent photo of a soldier neo nazi with make up on too).

it would have been better if they were not looking at you like they could be dead.

we would see them more as people and less like objects if their orientation was correct.


as for me... i dont get the feeling you described from these images. maybe i have nothing to project on them. i really dont know to be honest.

when i see other photos of soldiers i do get a lot of thinking in. but it was never about me, it was always about them. where where they from, what have they seen, what would they rather be doing (understanding that some are doing what they would rather be doing), what have they learned, and so forth...

i see someone i wouldnt mind meeting i guess.

thanks...

Posted by: Artfldgr at November 7, 2008 06:29 PM

It's strange how many of the commenters thought that the subjects in the photo were dead. Perhaps they were--but the caption on the website says "nine pictures of soldiers taken at Ft. Drum New York between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan".

So that suggests that the photos were of live young men--but a substantial number thought they were dead and "It's all Bush's fault".

Aside from thinking "Read the Directions Stupid!" before these folks get themselves all het up in a lather, I think the artist makes a point. There are human beings in those soldier suits--not necessarily baby killers, mighty warriors or great captains of battle---just individual young men. Some will live, some will die, some will do well in combat and some won't. Some other young person (and their mother) loves or will love them. It's well to remember that and the young men's essential humanity.

And Cassandra--where do you get the poetry you qoute! I'm frequently struck both by how beautiful it is and how appropriate your use of it is. You're well read and a good writer.

Posted by: Mike Myers at November 7, 2008 08:08 PM

Well, the thing today is something I wrote for my husband several years ago.

I need to read more. I used to read voraciously - 3 or 4 books a week.

Somehow, when I started blogging I stopped reading books. I'm not sure that they are causally related - some things happened in my life that sort of disrupted the routines I have pretty much followed since I was a kid. One of them was that I've always read for at least an hour before going to sleep.

Anyway, I am trying to start reading again.

Most of the verse is just snippets that float into my head when I'm composing a post. Sometimes I have to look parts up if I can't recall the whole thing. Most of it is Shakespeare, though.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2008 08:54 PM

I think I was projecting too, Art :p

That was kind of the point I was making. We see what we want to see. Or maybe what we know.

Or maybe what is inside of us? Who knows?

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2008 08:57 PM

I think your poem above is beautiful. And I thought the photos were haunting but I didn't think 'death' when I saw them. I saw sacrifice, I saw men who love their country enough to give something else up to protect it.

Maybe it is because of a conversation I had with my 4 year old daughter today. I got the 'After Action' Wounded Warrior Project mag in the mail yesterday. It is a special focus issue on burns and the soldier on the cover has suffered massive burns to his face. At first my daughter thought he looked scary. But we talked for quite awhile about how this man is a hero, about how all of our soldiers are heroes and how they protect us and keep our country safe and about what they have to give up to do so. At the end she decided that he had kind eyes.

That is what I saw in the eyes of the soldiers photographed.

Posted by: Kat at November 7, 2008 10:04 PM

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