“Last Exit to Baghdad” / New York Metro / Keith Gessen / November 7, 2005

"The music plays throughout the day, Hendrix, the Stones, the Who, music from a different war.”
—Anthony Swofford, Jarhead, describing the day Iraq accepted terms ending the first Gulf War.

All war books are the same and tell the same story. Leaders promise glory and gold; young men heed their call; and then they are gassed, or have their arms blown off and their faces burned, and they watch their friends die, their skulls torn apart—and then they themselves have to kill in turn.

But wars are different even if the books remain the same, and as the books about this new war begin to come out—the soldier memoirs appearing in one batch this fall, exactly a year after the first books by embedded journalists and military historians—we can begin to see, in their very slight differences from the war books of the past, the particular outlines of this lonely, episodic, very dirty war.


The artist Steve Mumford’s beautiful watercolor paintings of the war, one of which was on the cover of this month’s war-themed Harper’s and which are collected in his Baghdad Journal, show in floating brown, orange, and the occasional bright red and blue the scenes that he witnessed in Iraq: They are almost all waiting scenes, or police scenes, scenes of boredom. There is hardly any combat, no battlefield; there are only Americans on patrol, trying to bait the insurgents into firing on them, and occasionally, in the oppressive heat and boredom, booking a hooded insurgent back at the base. The paradigmatic image of Vietnam was Eddie Adams’s terrible photograph of a Vietcong soldier being shot directly in the temple, the grimace on the man’s face in plain, direct sight of the camera; the paradigmatic images of this war have all been of men wearing hoods.

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