"They were going to look at war, the red animal – war, the blood-swollen god."

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm

In honor of Veterans Day 2012, I’m copying a post I wrote two years ago for Veterans Day 2010.

Out walking the dog

Looking like they’d wandered into a Mondrian painting, these vets were part of a crowd of soldiers and veterans that gathered at Madison Square Park for last Thursday’s Veterans Day Parade.  The sky was a cloudless blue and the morning bright and mild.

Vets of every description gathered before the parade

View original post

Remembering the Dead: Indiana War Memorial Plaza

In Uncategorized, War Museums and Memorials on April 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I’ve become fascinated, and sometimes horrified, by the ways we choose to remember our wars and the men and women who died fighting them.  During a recent ten-day stay in Indianapolis to work on my play, Red Badge Variations, or The Red Animal, at the Bonderman New Play Prize and Symposium at Indiana Repertory Theater, I played hooky to explore the city’s War Memorial Plaza and Museum.

I’ll write about the Museum in a future post; today I want to show you the plaza.

Spring had popped during the past week, and Indy’s gorgeous flowering trees hovered like low-lying clouds along the pathways.

 The park is dotted with simple and moving memorials to Indiana soldiers who died in wars of the last century.  Oh, there are a few grandiose, martial eagles

and death-worshiping sarcophagi, such as this gloomy, star-studded shrine.

But I was deeply moved by the memorials to soldiers who died in Vietnam, World War II and Korea,

and particularly by excerpts from soldiers’ letters home that are cut into the stone, followed by the date of death. There is a home-spun quality to the beautifully selected letters with their sometimes idiosyncratic spellings.

 Some soldiers convey hard-won insights.

Others write of the brutal facts of life at war.

And others convey a bravado all the more poignant for its transparency.

By allowing the letters to stand as is, without comment or correction, these memorials remind us of the irreplaceable individuality of the soldiers we send into battle, and of the ripples of suffering that each death sends out into the world.

As of today, the death toll for American service members in our current war in Afghanistan stands at 1,540.

Story by Melissa Cooper

Tim Hetherington 1970-April 11, 2011

In Documentaries, Journalism, Movies, Uncategorized on April 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Tim Hetherington. Photo by Matt Stuart, Vanity Fair

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed today in Libya, where he was covering the conflict from the rebel front lines of the besieged city of Misurata.  He and three other photojournalists, Chris Hondros, Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown, were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. It is not clear at the time of this writing whether Hondros or Martin will survive their wounds.

Hetherington’s powerful images exposed the terrible consequences of conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Darfur and Liberia. among other places.  Hetherington also worked with author Sebastian Junger to film, direct and produce Restrepo, an extraordinary Oscar-nominated documentary film about a platoon of U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, an area that was considered among the most dangerous places on earth.

Hetherington and Junger lived alongside the soldiers in a remote combat outpost for about ten months in total. Before going to Afghanistan, Hetherington had spent a great deal of time covering conflicts.  But most journalists who are embedded with troops stay for a period of days or weeks.  Sharing the difficult day-to-day life of the platoon over a period of months allowed Hetherington and Junger to develop a deep understanding of individual soldiers and  their experiences of war and loss.  In an interview with Lauren Wissot of The Filmmaker Magazine Blog, Hetherington speaks of the choice to focus their exploration not on politics but on “the experience of the people who are fighting the war.”

Hetherington was also struck by the “interpersonal relationships between soldiers.  Take a small group of soldiers, platoon size, train them together, put them together in extreme circumstances and they will kill and be killed for each other. That is the heart of the war machine. And that’s really what our film became about.”

Hetherington’s death, like most combat deaths, was essentially random.  Had he been a few feet in one direction or another, he might have survived Wednesday’s attack, as he had survived others.   But while Hetherington’s death is a terrible, meaningless waste, his life’s work was brave, important, and full of meaning – and that work required that he put himself in harm’s way.

According to the New York Times, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, called Hetherington’s death “a devastating blow to the human rights community. His work has raised the visibility of many of the world’s forgotten conflicts. May the legacy of his exceptional photographs serve to inspire future generations.”

So watch Restrepo.  Visit Hetherington’s website.   Take a look at Infidel, his 2010 book of portraits and interviews of American soldiers.  And try to think in new ways about war, and the suffering it causes.  I don’t know what it means to “think in new ways about war.”  I only know the old ways fail us over and over again, while the death tolls continue to rise – in Afghanistan, Libya and around the world …