On Wednesday, the New York Times ran an article (Words Unspoken Are Rendered on War's Faces) on a series of photographs taken by photographer Nina Berman which are collected in the book Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq and featured in a solo exhibition at the Jen Bekman Gallery in Greenwich Village.
These images of wounded soldiers adapting to life back home speak for themselves. The NYTimes online also included a slidehow of 11 of these photos with captions laying out who you are looking at and what happened to them. Personally, I think that EVERYONE should look at these photographs. Most Americans are pretty insulated from the effects of this war -- perhaps we can name one person we know who has served in combat overseas -- and it is too easy for us to forget as we go through our daily routinues that we are a nation at war and that young Americans are in life-threateningly dangerous areas as we speak (or blog I guess).
Whatever your position on the war may be: whether you think we should get our troops out of there as fast as we can, or whether you think we are obligated to see this conflict -- which we started -- through; whether you believe that our soldiers are fighting to spread the ideals of freedom and democracy and to protect our way of life, or whether you have come to believe (as I have) that getting into this war is a mistake and that their sacrifices are basically in vain -- you can't help but be impressed by these images.
Because I'm a huge nerd, this makes me think of what the 19th-century Italian poet, Giacomo Leopardi, wrote about war. Specifically, in his 1818 patriotic poem (canzone civile) "Sopra il monumento di Dante che si preparava a Firenze" ("On the statue of Dante that was built in Florence"), Leopardi wrote about the Italian draftees fighting as part of Napoleon's Grande Armée in the ill-fated 1812 campaign in Russia:
...e lor fea l'aere e il cielo
E gli uomini e le belve immensa guerra.
Cadeano squadre a sqadre
Semivestiti, maceri e cruenti,
Ed era letto agli egri corpi il gelo.
... and on them the airs and the sky
and the men and the beasts made great war.
They fell squadron after squadron
Half-dressed, brusied, and bloody,
And the bed for their illustrious corpses was the ice.
I remember thinking about these verses when I heard about the fierce sandstorms in Iraq. I guess all war is hell. But some wars have to be fought whereas others...
Photo of Spc. Robert Acosta taken by Nina Berman/Jen Bekman Gallery