November 9, 2007

"Canyon of Heroes"

Grinker-Parade 9106

(click for full size)

There are a number of things I find stunningly memorable about Lori Grinker’s photo, taken on lower Broadway in the so-called “Canyon of Heroes” on June 10, 1991.

Perhaps because historical memory comes at a premium in the U.S., I realized I had nearly erased from my mind the twelve year gap between the first Bush Iraq war and the now four-and-a-half-year-old second.

I forgot that the original war really was a coalition, all 17 partners taking part in this parade.

I forgot about the yellow ribbons, a cluster of which seems to appear on a stanchion at the extreme left.  Because the first Bush-Iraq war only lasted seven months, military families were afforded the opportunity to be more hopeful.

Looking at the police woman just off the left shoulder of the soldier (bottom right), I almost forgot how police officers and firefighters used to be just regular civil servants, rather than manufactured symbols of an undefined worldwide cultural and religious war operating under a catchy slogan.

I forgot how, sixteen years ago, these troops would have had the World Trade Center at their backs, before “the events of September 11, 2001” cynically justified a botched Iraq rerun that will bring no parades and no sense of closure either.

Branded like a combat maneuver, “Operation Welcome Home” was billed as the largest parade in N.Y. history, a $5.2 million privately-funded celebration involving 10,000 pounds of confetti, 6,000 tons of ticker tape, over 3,000 dignitaries and 24,000 marchers.  Despite all the lip service paid these days to remembering, supporting and honoring the troops, this image of the soldiers hightailing away (especially in contrast to the iconic, joyous and frontal view of how a V-Day celebration is classically thought of) only emphasizes the association to Iraq as one tinged with anonymity.

*** ** ***

I wish to welcome Lori Grinker to BAGnewsNotes as the site’s newest contributer.  Her book, Afterwar, is a landmark investigation into the physical and psychological effects of war on veterans stretching from the latest engagement in Iraq back to the first World War.  As one of the country’s most important photojournalists, Lori maintains an instrumental role in locating conscience as a counterpoint to empire.

Regarding the specific photo above, Lori writes:

It’s always a bit strange/uncomfortable for me to photograph celebrations like this while also photographing and interviewing so many veterans (and now civilians from Iraq) who show us another side of war. It’s extremely bittersweet. How would we rejoice today if the troops were coming home from Iraq?  It would be a great moment, a huge relief but mixed with sorrow and anger…

I am proud to offer this platform in the blogosphere to bring Lori’s work to a broader, concerned audience.  I look forward to sharing her important imagery and reportage over the coming months.

(image:  Lori Grinker.  New York City.  June 10, 1991.  Used by permission.)

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