Friday, July 30, 2010

The Big Picture

Today, Alan Taylor, who runs The Big Picture,'s amazing large-format news photo blog, was kind enough to include a link to The War Project in his latest Afghanistan post, "Afghanistan, July, 2010."
"NATO and the United States now have 143,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 in coming weeks as they take a counter-insurgency offensive into the insurgents' southern strongholds." -- The Big Picture
Many times, I looked at these Afghanistan posts in the months leading up to the launch of The War Project and was inspired. I'd spent years more or less working one beat, and this would be a change of sorts. It was something I had been wanting to do for years, but it was a long time coming. Now, I think it's probably one of the smartest things I ever did.
"Hey there, Rakkasan. Thank you for telling this. I was with Charlie, 2/187 during the same time frame. A lot of what you said absolutely true to my own experience there. Again, thank you." -- Comment #9
The turning point came early this year when I had kidney stones. The pain was severe enough that I spent most of two months lying on a sofa. It did force me to think. About how I got there. If everything happens for a reason, why this particular thing happened. If there was something to be understood, what that may be. Eventually, I concluded if I spent enough time on that sofa, I would die there. That wasn't what I wanted.
"The nickname 'The Rakkasans' is derived from the Japanese word for umbrella. The name was given to the 187th during its tour in occupied Japan following World War II. When a translator dealing with local Japanese dignitaries was trying to explain what their unit was trained to do (and not knowing the Japanese word for 'airborne soldiers') he used the phrase 'falling down umbrella men,' or rakkasan. Amused by the clumsy word, the locals began to call the troopers by that nickname; it soon stuck and became a point of pride for the unit." -- 187th Infantry Regiment
That made me move forward. In June, the site launched with the first story. This week, the second story went up. I hope to donate the audio recordings of the interviews to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. That way future researchers and interested parties will have a better understanding of these conflicts from the perspective of those who were on the front lines.
"All the gods are dead except the god of war." -- Eldridge Cleaver
If you're an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran interested in being interviewed for this project, or if you know of someone who may be interested, email me.

[The War Project; @thewarproject]