America is at the mall

(This post was incorporated into the book’s Preface)

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As he navigated through the cramped hallways of the battle-scarred Government Center in Ramadi, Iraq, award-winning photographer John Moore tried to stay out of the way as gruff U.S. Marines hustled from one room to another.  For many months, the Government Center had been ground zero in the fight to win back control of the most important city in Anbar Province.  Moore lifted his camera as his practiced eye glimpsed a handwritten note on a whiteboard. There, in a careful, cursive script (rare in military settings) some anonymous bard-in-cammo had written:

America is not at war.
The Marine Corps is at war;
America is at the mall.

The photo was taken in January 2007. It was published in U.S. newspapers, then circulated around the blogosphere for a few weeks, but faded quickly from America’s collective consciousness — ironically proving the nameless author’s point. No doubt it was quickly erased from the whiteboard as well, as such cutting cynicism is not the message the Marine Corps wants to project to the public.

But for those who had fought bloody battles to secure Ramadi in late 2006, known then as the Sunni insurgency’s “heart of darkness”, the cynic’s lines perfectly captured their mood.  It was a hard-edged sentiment, with equal parts disgust and pride.  Pride at what they’d endured and accomplished. Disgust and disillusionment that it was so casually disregarded, even actively devalued, by most of their countrymen at home.

Today, that same bitter mixture still circulates in the veins, synapses and buried memories of those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Take the time to really talk to an Iraq War veteran about his or her experiences there, and you will likely hear some version of “America is at the mall”.

(I’ve moved the rest of the Preface to its own page)

 

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