01 April 2010
Gray Land Soldiers on War by Barry Goldstein
Book of the week this week was Barry Goldstein's Gray Land: Soldiers on War.
The book is a combination of photography and reflections on war by soldiers of the Third Brigade Combat Team, 3ID.
The title comes from Sassoon's poem from the Great War entitled "Dreamers." This is one of my favorite WWI poems and the line borrowed to create the book's title is particularly powerful:
Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time's tomorrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Warriors do exist differently from the rest of us. To paraphrase Owen, they have walked along with death and he has become their companion. It is a reminder that no matter the time period, war is still war and warriors remain warriors.
What Goldstein does brilliantly is distill the many experiences and stories of individual soldiers into digestible chunks. He does not tell each man or woman's entire war story. He and they share only pieces that give glimpses into the whole.
He further distills the stories by pulling out profound statements by the soldiers and accompanying them with his photographs of the individuals and their battlefield.
Each story reminds the reader that behind the uniforms are people. The war for each of them is different. Yet, the result is a life changing experience for each of them and those that they love. As Spc. Diacogiannis points out, "That is a lot of people affected by just one person going over there (26)."
There is so much insight that can be gleaned from these interviews. The soldiers talk about the unnatural experience of going from a war zone to home in 24 hours and being expected to flip the switch that quickly. The officers speak of the responsibility that rests on their shoulders and the burden they carry with them each time they lose a soldier. They talk about the toll deployment takes on their families and the bonds they create with each other.
These are all recurring themes in war literature. Yet their stories are also unique to our war. They are important because they help create a history of this war. They also help those of us who work to help soldiers transition back to civilian life identify the major issues they are facing. We cannot know what they have gone through because we were not there with them. But Goldstein's work allows us a window into their world.
Goldstein's book is beautifully collected and arraigned collection of individual stories. It is powerful look at the world through the eyes of the soldiers he followed.
Things to contemplate:
"I wasn't scared of going to Iraq. I was scared that as soon as I left, things [at home] weren't going to be the same (42)."
"I may waiver on it at times, but there is a reason why I'm here, and in some sense it's a privilege and a burden (50)."
"And it's hard to come straight home and look your mom in the eye and give her a big old hug knowing twenty-four hours ago this is what I was doing. It's just a very strange, awkward, unnatural feeling, and it took some time. (32)."
"But what is a soldier? His uniform? His stature? A soldier is human being, one who has made a decision to sacrifice certain rights (15)."
"A soldier has been an integral part of the history of this country. At times soldiers have been invisible (12)."
"Maybe someday I'll take time from grieving (66)."
"But you can get burned out. You know, this is my 34th month in Iraq (76)."