The war in Iraq officially began on March 19, 2003 and lasted eight and a half years, until December 2011. There were 2.16 million U.S. troops deployed in combat zones. Roughly 4,500 U.S. service members died while serving in Iraq and nearly 30 percent of all returning veterans have PTSD. “Army of One”, by Swiss photojournalist Elisabeth Real tells the story of six American soldiers whose lives, and the lives of their families, have been irreversibly altered by the war in Iraq. Of the six soldiers featured in this book, five have been officially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Army of One” was once a recruitment slogan that aimed to give the message: if you take your future into your own hands, you will be as powerful as an army. Yet for many veterans, this slogan has come to mean the exact opposite. PTSD diagnosis can cost up to $1.5 million over a soldier’s lifetime, which has meant that many soldiers are left on long waiting lists to receive treatment or often do not receive treatment at all, leaving them to suffer with this condition alone.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, where more than 58,000 Americans were killed, several times that number of veterans have taken their own lives. Vietnam War veteran turned journalist; Larry Shook points the fingers at American leaders, claiming that they still have not learned lessons from Vietnam:
“The taboo against killing is the most deeply embedded behavioural taboo in the human psyche … Training for combat changes your personality,”.
“You can’t take that young man, pat him on the back, say ‘Thank you for your service, here are a few ribbons, you did a good job’ and return him to civilian life and expect him to have a normal happy functional human life. His brain is not capable of that.”
“Army of One” covers the lives of soldiers over an extended period of time, and it is clear to see how the war has altered their personalities. Elisabeth’s photographs capture the difficulties the men have faced since returning and how the consequences of the combat experience have carried over to affect their families and other aspects of their civilian lives. Many soldiers suffering from PTSD are left completely alone, trying to come to terms with a conflict that the American public gradually lost interest in.
This book is not political and it’s not trying to overwhelm you with statistics or facts about war. It aims to give soldiers the opportunity to share their stories, with the highs and lows that come with life, inside and outside of the military. It makes you aware of the different perspectives of soldiers and how their lives have been shaped by varying experiences and circumstance. Any book that can give a broader perspective of the world is important, especially when it can address issues and raise awareness for conditions like PTSD.
‘If I didn’t have my wife, I’d fall apart. Who takes care of all the people who suffer because their love ones have PTSD? No one.’ – Luis Tristan, San Antonio, Texas