War is Personal
By Eugene RichardsAt the beginning of 2006 the war in Iraq was about to enter its fourth year. No WMDs had been found. There was sanctioned torture, deteriorating rules of law, tens of thousands of injured and dead in Iraq, more than 2,000 dead American soldiers, a rising suicide rate among American military personnel, scandals involving private contractors in Iraq and deteriorating conditions inside US military hospitals. All the while the media coolly debated what were to be considered legal or illegal killings in Iraq, what the conflict was costing America in image, what the war was costing the president in his popularity ratings and what the war was costing America in "treasure."
Posted on September 22, 2008, Printed on May 15, 2010
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I was asking myself for the thousandth time, "What can I do? Write letters, sign petitions, continue to protest, stop paying taxes?" I was a photojournalist and I had been too silent.
Then one day, after coming home from photographing an anti-war demonstration, though I'm no poet, I wrote a kind of poem. And it was this poem that indirectly led to this project and provided me with a focus.
War is personal It's my seventeen-year-old son Sam that I'm thinking of when I say this
War is a reminder of all that we have
and all that we can lose
War is what happens when we fail
In late 2006 I began work on what would be a series of photo and textual essays focused on the lives of people in this country who'd been profoundly affected by the war. The text and the photographs wouldn't be expository in nature, but experiential and of the moment. I spent time with 26-year-old Tomas Young, who had been shot, paralyzed, four days into his tour in Iraq. Tomas had accidentally overdosed on his meds the morning I visited. I photographed and interviewed Carlos Arredondo, whose Marine son had been killed in combat, then traveled to see Mona Parsons, who was trying to prevent her dutiful son from returning to his military unit in Iraq.
In the months that followed I attended a funeral service for Army Sergeant Princess Samuels; spent close to a week in a VA Hospital in Massachusetts documenting a woman's struggle to keep her brain-injured son alive; interviewed and photographed a former combat medic who, upon returning home, had to deal with his escalating post-traumatic stress disorder; traveled to a small town in Minnesota to do a story on a single mom whose guilt-ridden Marine boyfriend had taken his life.
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