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The Physical and Mental Wounds That Torment Combatants and Their Families Long After the War Is Over

November 12, 2013 in Blogs

By Prashanth Kamalakanthan, Asia Times

Ann Jones' new book'They Were Soldiers' delivers brutal examples of destroyed lives to highlight war's inhumanity.

In his final letter to his family, 30-year-old Iraq war veteran Daniel Somers wrote of having never returned from war. “In truth, I was nothing more than a prop”, reads the suicide note dated June 10, 2013, six years after his final deployment. “In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time.” 

As the US-led war in Afghanistan draws to a close, Washington will tout the absence of combat troops in that country. Looking toward a scheduled withdrawal date of 2014, President Barack Obama has proudly announced hat “our troops are finally coming home”. 

But in what state he cannot say. For as the soldiers start streaming back, they will have absences of their own. Many will be disfigured, missing parts of the bodies they left with. Others will return in boxes, gone altogether. For some, like Somers, it will take longer to understand what was lost. 

“There are some things that a person simply cannot come back from,” he wrote in anguish. 

Though it's the harshest condemnation we seem to hear, the horrors of war are not really “unspeakable”. The English language gives us many words to express the wretched realities of modern warfare: rape, mutilation, massacre, psychosis. But there are those that make our wars, and there are those who live them. 

Both choose not to utter these ugly truths for their separate reasons. The heroic vocabulary of patriotic sacrifice papers over a miserable human reality politicians wish to ignore and soldiers need to escape. 

Between them are the witnesses who find the voice to speak. 

Ann Jones, the scholar, journalist and photographer who for decades has reported from the world's conflict zones, turns in her latest book to those dealing with the silences surrounding the United States' longest war. They Were Soldiers is an unwaveringly human narrative about the soldiers who return from Afghanistan, whole or in pieces, and the communities that put them back together, or not. It is not, as she makes clear at the outset, about “the pointless wars”. 

From the outside, wars start …read more


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