We don't like to see our soldiers as vulnerable. We expect them to go above and beyond the lengths we could ever imagine ourselves taking, and to return home as untarnished heroes. If we were to humanize them, we would have to hold them to a human standard.
Talented photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson seeks to do just that. After Gilbertson experienced the traumatic events of the war in Iraq firsthand, he returned home determined to destigmatize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His photographic series, Bedrooms of the Fallen, offers a poignant glimpse into the serene rooms of quilts, laundry, and framed photos that deceased soldiers have left behind. Gilbertson discusses his work, and his experiences in Iraq, in the following Now This Is News video:
Gilbertson's photos provide a sharp reminder that soldiers are forced to leave their humanity at home, and are expected to be ready-made civilians the second their feet touch American soil. A soldier is not meant to see his daughter's face in that of an Iraqi girl, and he is not meant to see an Iraqi girl's face in his daughter's when he returns. The only grief that we, as a society, can manage to swallow is the grief of a family who has lost a soldier, and the grief of a soldier who has lost a friend. Perhaps, instead of questioning the struggles of soldiers consumed by PTSD, we should question those who do not have the humanity to comprehend soldiers' struggles with PTSD.
In January of 2012, a video of Marines urinating on the corpses of a Taliban members went viral. The men involved were prosecuted, and widespread reactions of disgust coursed through the blogosphere. On Facebook, a Marine responded to the predictable outrage, saying, "You expect us to kill, but peeing on a dead body is outrageous? And then you prosecute us? Semper Fi!!!"
We should not expect our soldiers to be able to carry out a sterile, "polite" war, and to return home unchanged, when we do not attend to their psychological needs. Nor should we deny soldiers' humanity, yet expect them to be humane. Perhaps before we take care of others, we should take care of our own.