Purple Hearts - Back from Iraq Hardcover – 10 Aug 2004
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A purple heart is the token honor given to soldiers for their wounds. It makes them heroes. It is the title that Nina Berman has given to her photographs of American soldiers gravely wounded in the Iraq war, who have returned home to face life away from the waving flags and heroic send-offs. The images are accompanied by first person interviews with the soldiers who discuss their lives, reasons for enlisting, and experience in Iraq. They provide a glimpse into the myths of warfare as glorious spectacle through the minds of young men desperate to believe in the righteousness of their actions. One soldier explained that he always wanted to be a hero. He thought the military would be fun - he would jump out of planes. He certainly never imagined it could be ugly until he saw Saving Private Ryan. He is now a cripple, doped up all day on pain medications, flat broke with one kid and another on the way. Another described calling the recruiting station after he saw an Army MTV-style commercial on TV. An immigrant from Pakistan, he was given his citizenship following his injury. Fair trade in his mind, a leg for an American passport.The photographs are accompanied by essays from Verlyn Klinkenborg, writer for the New York Times Editorial writer, and Tim Origer, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine who fought in the Tet offensive. He came back 19 and an amputee.
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To post a review of a book one has never even seen here on a book review site is curious, ridiculous and a dogmatic political act, the very tar with which the "reviewer" pretends to paint Berman. The review, such as it is, parrots the now very weary and increasingly diluted words "patriotism" and "heroes" with the now prerequsite sense of insult and outrage. One of the more remarkable things about the photographs (which are available to see when actually looking at the book) is how dispassionate they are. That is, removed of the photographer's own passions. You simply see the physical manifestation of the damage to each soldier. And that is their power. Viewers are left to imagine what kind of peace each of these formerly anonymous casualty figures will be able to make with the war that will be with them the rest of the days of their lives. Don't the best books rest in one's hands more as questions than answers?
This is a subject very close to me. I am a photographer who has worked in combat zones, as has Nina Berman, but in the end I was attacked in the United States by a half-dozen young men and nearly kicked and stomped to death. Like some of the soldiers in this book, I suffered a traumatic brain injury, which in my case left me unable to walk or to recall three simple numbers recited by my speech therapist. Like everyone else with a brain injury my emotions were no longer completely under my control and I would begin crying for no reason at all.
But I soon understood that there were reasons to cry. The worst thing about being injured by violence is how lonely it is, something survivors can recognize when we see it in each other's eyes. If you stare into the eyes of the wounded people on these pages you might see it yourself. When we are called heroes or "inspirations to everyone we meet" (only if we are fortunate enough to have a support system that will help us help ourselves back on our feet), we hear empty words spoken by people who think that surviving is something glorious.
What Nina Berman has done is to unflinchingly expose the human flesh that suffers along behind a comforting, fluttering, star spangled curtain. In that way, Berman's photographs ask each viewer if we, as a nation of very diverse people, are prepared to make peace with what each one of the people in this book has lost in war.
The images are harrowing, the narrative essays enlightening. Ms. Berman's treatment of this reality with dignity and clarity shines through the unsettling pictures and words of men and women who will be forever changed by the near death they encountered.
Ms. Berman's important book respectfully illuminates the broad spectrums of patriotism and heroism, which take many shapes and perspectives. She gives visibility and voice to those who often go unheard and denied.
Her work is a gift - a courageous exercise in capturing what many may not have the courage to see - because of the questions provoked. "PURPLE HEARTS, Back from Iraq" offers us the possibility to briefly (and safely) encounter one reality of war's impact on the very human participants. We should be so very thankful.
Well Elisa I listened to the interview and the only motive I heard was Nina's desire to try and show how these brave men and women are dealing with the horrible injuries. The mainstream press has failed to do it so people like Nina have taken the time to provide them with an opportunity to show how they are coping. The average person on the street needs to see this book and I hope Nina does a thousand more interviews to promote her book so the American Public see the sacrifice that 1,000's of our troops are making in Iraq. Nina expressed the truth in her book and in her promotion of the book. I applaud Nina's efforts to try and show the terrible sacrifice. The only thing missing from the book is the smell of war that I experienced as an Air Evac medic in the Nam conflict. Elisa you don't support the troops by supporting the lies that kill them.
From "Antiwar battles on two fronts" by John Needham, LA Times Staff Writer, Oct 5