In After War Zoë H. Wool explores how the American soldiers most severely injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars struggle to build some kind of ordinary life while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from grievous injuries like lost limbs and traumatic brain injury. Between 2007 and 2008, Wool spent time with many of these mostly male soldiers and their families and loved ones in an effort to understand what it's like to be blown up and then pulled toward an ideal and ordinary civilian life in a place where the possibilities of such a life are called into question. Contextualizing these soldiers within a broader political and moral framework, Wool considers the soldier body as a historically, politically, and morally laden national icon of normative masculinity. She shows how injury, disability, and the reality of soldiers' experiences and lives unsettle this icon and disrupt the all-too-common narrative of the heroic wounded veteran as the embodiment of patriotic self-sacrifice. For these soldiers, the uncanny ordinariness of seemingly extraordinary everyday circumstances and practices at Walter Reed create a reality that will never be normal.
Disabled Veterans in History
David A. Gerber, Editor University of Michigan Press, 2012 Library of Congress UB360 | Dewey Decimal 362.408697
Disabled Veterans in History explores the long-neglected history of those who have sustained lasting injuries or chronic illnesses while serving in uniform. The contributors to this volume cover an impressive range of countries in Europe and North America as well as a wide sweep of chronology from the Ancient World to the present. This revised and enlarged edition, available for the first time in paperback, has been updated to reflect the new realities of war injuries in the 21st century, including PTSD. The book includes an afterword by noted Veterans Administration psychiatrist and MacArthur Award winner Jonathan Shay, a new preface, and an added essay on the changing nature of the American war hero.
Christian Bagge, an Iraq War veteran, lost both his legs in a roadside bomb attack on his Humvee in 2006. Months after the accident, outfitted with sleek new prosthetic legs, he jogged alongside President Bush for a photo op at the White House. The photograph served many functions, one of them being to revive faith in an American martial ideal—that war could be fought without permanent casualties, and that innovative technology could easily repair war’s damage. When Bagge was awarded his Purple Heart, however, military officials asked him to wear pants to the ceremony, saying that photos of the event should be “soft on the eyes.” Defiant, Bagge wore shorts.
America has grappled with the questions posed by injured veterans since its founding, and with particular force since the early twentieth century: What are the nation’s obligations to those who fight in its name? And when does war’s legacy of disability outweigh the nation’s interests at home and abroad? In Paying with Their Bodies, John M. Kinder traces the complicated, intertwined histories of war and disability in modern America. Focusing in particular on the decades surrounding World War I, he argues that disabled veterans have long been at the center of two competing visions of American war: one that highlights the relative safety of US military intervention overseas; the other indelibly associating American war with injury, mutilation, and suffering. Kinder brings disabled veterans to the center of the American war story and shows that when we do so, the history of American war over the last century begins to look very different. War can no longer be seen as a discrete experience, easily left behind; rather, its human legacies are felt for decades.
The first book to examine the history of American warfare through the lens of its troubled legacy of injury and disability, Paying with Their Bodies will force us to think anew about war and its painful costs.
Portraits of Violence explores the image and idea of facial disfigurement in one of its most troubling modern formations, as a symbol and consequence of war. It opens with Nina Berman’s iconic photograph Marine Wedding, which provoked a debate about the medical, military, and psychological response to serious combat injuries. While these issues remain urgent, it is equally crucial to interrogate the representation of war and injury. The concepts of valor, heroism, patriotism, and courage assume visible form and do their cultural work when they are personified and embodied. The mutilated or disabled veteran’s body can connote the brutalizing, dehumanizing potential of modern combat.
Suzannah Biernoff draws on a wide variety of sources mainly from WWI but also contemporary photography and computer games. Each chapter revolves around particular images: Marine Wedding is discussed alongside Stuart Griffiths’ portraits of British veterans; Henry Tonks’ drawings of WWI facial casualties are compared to the medical photographs in the Gillies Archives; the production of portrait masks for the severely disfigured is approached through the lens of documentary film and photography; and finally the haunting image of one of Tonks’s patients reappears in BioShock, a highly successful computer game. The book simultaneously addresses a neglected area in disability studies; puts disfigurement on the agenda for art history and visual studies; and makes a timely and provocative contribution to the literature on the First World War.
With US soldiers stationed around the world and engaged in multiple conflicts, Americans will be forced for the foreseeable future to come to terms with those permanently disabled in battle. At the moment, we accept rehabilitation as the proper social and cultural response to the wounded, swiftly returning injured combatants to their civilian lives. But this was not always the case, as Beth Linker reveals in her provocative new book, War’s Waste.
Linker explains how, before entering World War I, the United States sought a way to avoid the enormous cost of providing injured soldiers with pensions, which it had done since the Revolutionary War. Emboldened by their faith in the new social and medical sciences, reformers pushed rehabilitation as a means to “rebuild” disabled soldiers, relieving the nation of a monetary burden and easing the decision to enter the Great War. Linker’s narrative moves from the professional development of orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists to the curative workshops, or hospital spaces where disabled soldiers learned how to repair automobiles as well as their own artificial limbs. The story culminates in the postwar establishment of the Veterans Administration, one of the greatest legacies to come out of the First World War.