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

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Farzana Wahidy, Pioneering Afghan Woman Photojournalist

In Afghanistan, Journalism, Women on January 29, 2011 at 6:00 am


Farzana Wahidy is a  young Afghan woman who works as a photojournalist, taking extraordinary pictures of life in her conflict-riddled country. She believes that images serve as an important source of news and education for her countrymen, the vast majority of whom are illiterate.  Her work also communicates the humanity and aspirations of individuals, the terrible consequences of life in a war zone, and the particular hardships of women’s lives in an oppressively patriarchal society.

As a woman, Wahidy is able to photograph Afghan women in situations that would be off-limits to male photographers.

Photo by Farzana Wahidy; click to go to website

In an interview in Warshooter, a website of photojournalists covering conflict and crisis, Wahidy said,In some cases only women can cover the story, like in prisons or hospitals. So if there are no female photojournalists, the story does not get told.”  Wahidy’s family supports her work.  She quotes her father as saying “… that this is a chance to tell the true story of Afghanistan and that this is a big responsibility and that I should respect it. He tells me that I should do something, not just know about it, but do something about it.”

Of her often dangerous assignments, Wahidy says, “If I die doing this work, I will be proud.”

Please take the time to visit the website of Farzana Wahidy, and browse the image galleries.

To see more images and find out more about Wahidy, visit Lens, the New York Times Photography Blog, and Lightstalker. A good article about Wahidy is posted at Women’s eNews.

Story by Melissa Cooper

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“Words in the Dust”: Soldier-novelist tells story of Afghan girl

In Afghanistan, Fiction, Literature, Women on January 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

While deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-2005 as a combat engineer, National Guardsman Trent Reedy met Zulaikha, a 12 year-old Afghan girl with a severely deforming cleft lip. After getting to know her and her family, Reedy and his fellow soldiers pooled their money and arranged for the girl to have corrective surgery at an American military base.  Reedy’s recently published first novel, “Words in the Dust,” imagines the girl’s life.

The book, which is told from the point of view of the young girl, is aimed at the young adult market, which seems to mean junior high school and up.

According to a recent article in the L.A. Times, Reedy joined the Army fresh out of high school and went to Afghanistan full of anger at the attacks of September 11.  His understanding of the Afghan people began to change when he watched two small Afghan children playing in the street, while he was on guard duty.  “The boy was pulling a box with a piece of yarn, and the girl was just pulling a piece of yarn,” said Reedy. “These were their toys. It was that day that I thought, ‘They’re not the enemy.’ If anything, these people were more of a victim of Al Qaeda and the Taliban than I am. You can’t keep the anger up looking at those little kids.”

Reedy’s ability to forge a friendship with Zulaikha was limited by the strict rules governing interaction between the sexes.  Still he was struck by Zulaikha’s yearning to achieve an education and learn to read.  He promised her that he would tell her story, telling the L.A. Times, “It was a mission I absolutely had to accomplish, no matter how long it took or how ridiculous it sounded that a white guy from Iowa would write it.”

In another interview, Reedy said, “It’s never been more clear that we need more understanding about the people of Afghanistan. We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, and we need to understand who these people are. I was amazed by the people I met in Afghanistan. I owe my life to the Afghans.”

Reedy, who taught high school English for four years after his return from Afghanistan, is now working full-time on his second book. He plans to rejoin the National Guard, and to keep writing. “I miss the Army,” he said, but added “I couldn’t stop writing, if I wanted to.”

I look forward to reading “Words in the Dust” soon.

Story by Melissa Cooper

To comment, scroll down and click on the red button below.

Memoirs by Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, Part One

In Literature, Memoirs on January 25, 2011 at 10:25 am

I’ve never been a reader of memoirs. Novels are more my speed.  A good novel, I’ve felt, is as true – no, truer – to life than nonfictional accounts constrained by fidelity to facts.   But while few novels have yet to come out of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the number of memoirs by veterans keeps growing.  So I started reading memoirs.  I wasn’t looking for great literature, nor did I find it. With each book, I was looking for a window into the experience of war and home-coming from the point of view of a warrior.  That, I found.

This post gives mini-descriptions of five of the finest memoirs I have read so far.  I’ll write about others in a future post.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education by Craig Mullaney

Fascinating reading for a civilian trying to understand what makes a brilliant and idealistic young man choose to be a soldier in a time of war. Mullaney, a Rhodes scholar and Army Ranger, served in Afghanistan and Iraq. His book is carefully written, earnest and thoughtful. Mullaney conveys the extraordinary responsibility that young lieutenants carry as they lead men into battle and make  life-or-death decisions while barely out of college. He is currently Senior Advisor at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), advising on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War by Brandon Friedman

Terrific, harrowing and well-written book by a former infantry officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Friedman confronts head-on the clash of his boyhood dreams of war with the reality of experience. “When I got out of the Army, I was done,” Friedman said in 2010. “I didn’t want to deal with anything anymore.” Friedman is now a Truman National Security Fellow and Director of New Media at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq by Paul Rieckhoff

Powerful, emotional account of a brash young lieutenant facing the realities of leading men into combat in Iraq, despite his doubts about whether the war was just.  Fierce and driven, Rieckhoff has gone on to found and lead IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), a lively, forward-thinking and increasingly powerful organization that supports our newest veterans and their families.

Soft Spots: A Marine’s Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Clint Van Winkle

A Marine sergeant writes of the bonds formed in combat, and of his difficult return home after fighting in Iraq.  Frank, courageous and brutally honest account of a veteran’s estrangement from civilian life and his terrifying struggle with PTSD.  Van Winkle is also a filmmaker; click to watch his documentary,  The Guilt.

Greetings from Afghanistan: Send More Ammo by Benjamin Tupper

A captain with an Embedded Training Team (ETT), Tupper spent a year in a remote outpost in Afghanistan, training, patrolling and fighting alongside the Afghan National Army.  Tupper maintained a blog during his deployment, some of which was recorded in the field and broadcast on National Public Radio. Essentially a compilation of short blog posts, the book is full of vivid and surprising details.

Story by Melissa Cooper

Welcome to the Red Animal Project

In Research, Uncategorized on January 22, 2011 at 9:53 am

“They were going to look at war, the red animal – war, the blood-swollen god.”                – Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Animal Project is a new blog and a new play, The Red Animal, by Melissa Cooper.

The U. S. has been at war for almost a decade. Two million Americans have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, some of them many times. Yet the war and the people who fight it remain largely invisible to many Americans. By exploring the experiences of combat soldiers at war and at home, The Red Animal (both play and blog) aims to spark questions, combat stereotypes, promote understanding of soldiers as individuals, and contribute to a national discussion about war and warriors that is way overdue.

The play, The Red Animal (inspired by Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage), tracks five young American soldiers through a year’s deployment in a remote part of Afghanistan.  Writing the play led to a year of wide-ranging research, following the philosophy:

Cast a wide net and see what you catch.

The Red Animal blog is a place to share what I’ve learned from news reports, novels, memoirs, blogs, plays, poetry by soldiers, films, documentaries, art work, videos by soldiers, private discussions and public events.  I’ll post links to stories that may include such wide-ranging topics as how Stephen Crane’s love of sports impacted his war writing, the latest research on traumatic brain injuries and writings by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’ll also write about the process of developing a new play, as The Red Animal moves toward its first productions (check Calendar for upcoming events and News for updates).

I’ll post a couple of times a week, so check back or subscribe by email (bottom right of the blog) to be notified of new posts.

I welcome comments and suggestions. For more information, check out What is The Red Animal Project? and About the Writer.

Thank you for visiting The Red Animal Project!