Shadows of War: The true costs of war are hidden from the public because the reality is too horrific to accept.

AuthorHedges, Chris
PositionBOOK EXCERPT - "2nd Tour, Hope I Don't Die," "Afterwar: Veterans from a World in Conflict"

In an instant, industrial warfare can kill dozens, even hundreds of people, who never see their attackers. The power of these industrial weapons is indiscriminate and staggering. They can take down apartment blocks in seconds, burying and crushing everyone inside. They can demolish villages and send tanks, planes, and ships up in fiery blasts. The wounds, for those who survive, leave terrible burns, blindness, amputation, and lifelong pain and trauma. In Peter van Agtmaels 2nd Tour, Hope I Don't Die and Lori Grinker's Afterwar: Veterans from a World in Conflict, two books of war photographs, we see pictures of war hidden from public view. These pictures are shadows, for only those who go to and suffer from war can fully confront the visceral horror of it, but they are at least an attempt to unmask war's savagery.

"Over 90 percent of this soldier's body was burned when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle, igniting the fuel tank and burning two other soldiers to death," reads a caption in van Agtmaels book, next to a photograph of the bloodied body of a soldier in an operating room. "His camouflage uniform dangled over the bed, ripped open by the medics who had treated him on the helicopter. Clumps of his skin had peeled away, and what was left of it was translucent. He was in and out of consciousness, his eyes stabbing open for a few seconds. As he was lifted from the stretcher to the ER bed, he screamed, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy' then 'Put me to sleep, please put me to sleep.' There was another photographer in the ER, and he leaned his camera over the heads of the medical staff to get an overhead shot. The soldier yelled, 'Get that fucking camera out of my face.' Those were his last words. I visited his grave one winter afternoon six months later," van Agtmael wrote, "and the scene of his death is never far from my thoughts."

"There were three of us inside, and the Jeep caught fire," Israeli soldier Yossi Arditi, quoted in Grinker's book, says of the moment when a Molotov cocktail exploded in his vehicle. "The fuel tank was full, and it was about to explode, my skin was hanging from my arms and face--but I didn't lose my head. I knew nobody could get inside to help me, that my only way out was through the fire to the doors. I wanted to take my gun, but I couldn't touch it because my hands were burning."

Arditi spent six months in the hospital. He had surgery every two or three months, about twenty operations, over the next three years.


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