“The moods of the American soldiers in Iraq can be described as gleefully bitter and enthusiastically cynical,” said photojournalist Nathan Webster this past Tuesday. “These guys that have been deployed three to four times now are long past the point of being interested.”
The MUB lecture “Can’t Give This War Away: Three Iraqi Summers of Change and Conflict” served as a platform for Webster to detail his experience and share his photos from the time he spent in Iraq between 2007 and 2009.
Webster, a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program here at UNH is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and a photojournalist who applied the process of “embedded reporting” in order to portray the troops. His purpose in Iraq was to chronicle the activities of the soldiers in an attempt to sell the photos to major newspapers and increase awareness of the current war effort, which at times can be pushed to the wayside by the American public.
Currently he is working on a book entitled “Can’t Give This War Away,” about his experiences abroad.
“I believe the United States’ involvement in Iraq is the single most important ongoing event in the last 10 years,” said Webster. “We can’t give this war away as a country. We are trying to give control back to Iraq as if we can just wash our hands of it, but we as a country don’t get to spend a trillion dollars on something and then just put it behind us.”
Webster noted the lack of press or media coverage in Iraq while he was over there, as he never saw reporters from any of the major newspapers. He thought that he would never get approved to go over to Iraq, so it came as quite a surprise when his application was accepted and he was told to purchase protective gear and to head over immediately.
“As soon as the application was actually approved I thought to myself-what have I done?” Webster said. “I didn’t realize it would be so easy, I didn’t have any problems getting there.”
Webster discussed missions that he accompanied the troops on, as well as vital meetings between the U.S. and the Iraqis back in 2007 that have set the foundation for the current Iraq 2009 relations. The infantrymen referred to these meetings as “tea parties,” as those participating would often drink chai during discussions.
The discussion ended with a four-minute slideshow of pictures, each shedding some light and personality on the anonymity of soldiers that is often portrayed in a war.
“My goal with these images is to show these men and women in a different light,” Webster said.
The images involved soldiers smoking, on their computer in their sleeping quarters, joking around with one another, and talking to some Iraqi children.
When the pictures with the children were shown, the aspect of trust was addressed in the discussion.
“When you are over there you trust nobody… situations are almost always safer than they look, but you never really know,” Webster said.
Another issue that was brought up was the disconnect the soldiers experienced in order to survive and function in Iraq.
“You have to disconnect yourself and focus on right now, the present tense,” Webster said. “You don’t worry about the future because it may not happen, and the past doesn’t matter anymore. The soldiers put their lives at home behind them, they just worry about the present.”
Responses to the event were positive.
“As a veteran myself, it was an interesting lecture,” said community member Richard Sweeney. “It was enlightening, but it definitely was not what I expected. I thought he would be against the war, but he wasn’t.”
“It’s really unusual to get a first-hand report of the war,” said community member Gretchen Forbes. “You’d think by now it would be our duty to have major news organizations over there to write about the war…that really surprises me. I feel like it’s the media’s responsibility.”
Community member Betty Nordgren was also dismayed by the lack of news coverage.
“I am always interested in hearing about the war and the images were great to see, but I think that the news organizations are in trouble if they don’t start covering this war more thoroughly,” said Nordgren.