A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the invisible wound that scars war veterans, and some individuals are so afflicted that they die physically or psychologically from this traumatic wound through suicide, homicide or incurable psychosis. In 2012, this disorder is recognized and understood in ways it never was before, making it more possible for traumatized men and women to get the help they need. However, war-related PTSD certainly isn’t new, and when the 20th century and its technological might ushered in massively brutal, worldwide conflicts that buried forever idea of a “gentleman’s war,” it also drastically increased the psychological pressures on combat troops. Motion pictures have been used to document the many aspects of war. Over the years, the United States government has commissioned a number of documentaries that look at soldiers returning from theaters of war, as they attempt to reintegrate into the society they left behind.

Perhaps the most famous documentary about returning soldiers is the 1946 film Let There Be Light by the acclaimed filmmaker John Huston, who considered the film to be one of his best movies. However, its fame derives mainly from being kept hidden for 35 years after it was made, by a War Department uncomfortable with the notion that there is any lasting downside to war for the returning veteran. The War Department was so uneasy about this documentary that it had the film remade as Shades of Gray, a propaganda docudrama based on Let There Be Light, which not only eliminated African-American soldiers from the cast, but also suggested that only soldiers who were disturbed before they went to war broke down upon their return.

Film history isn’t the only context in which to appreciate Huston’s hour-long documentary, his third and final film for the Army Signal Corps. Let There Be Light is also one of the earliest commercial depictions of psychotherapy, in this case the military’s use of it to treat what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The U.S. military now offers a wide array of pre- and post-battle therapies to help soldiers recover from traumatic experiences. In contrast, Let There Be Light’s gruff doctors, who inject sodium amytal and conduct religious group therapy sessions, look prehistoric by comparison.

Nevertheless, Let There Be Light, like its routinely under-appreciated 1946 fictional counterpart, The Best Years of Our Lives, remains essential viewing. Each of the films conveys a sense of compassion toward soldiers; the soldiers presented in these films don’t ask to be called heroes, they only want normalcy. Today’s returning soldiers surely feel the same, and yet their experiences on the battlefield are increasingly abnormal, even unknown, to most people they encounter upon returning.

Seven months after the War Department forcibly prevented Let There Be Light from premiering at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, a disabled Army veteran named Harold Russell became the only man to win two Oscars for the same performance. Russell received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Honorary Award for Nonprofessional aActing for his role as a returned soldier in The Best Years of Our Lives. William Wyler’s 168-minute drama concerns the homecomings of three soldiers, and it was showered with awards throughout the winter and spring of 1947, including a Best Picture Oscar and multiple Golden Globes and New York Film Critics Circle citations.

The Best Years of Our Lives and Let There Be Light aren’t cynical or judgmental of American society, but are quietly brave and emotionally devastating. Let There Be Light attempts to shield us with its preentation of hospital interiors that are clean, orderly and positively overstaffed. Nonetheless, the men and their stories are unforgettable. You finish watching the film feeling emotionally drained and deeply grateful that they won’t have to fight again.

To commemorate this past Memorial Day, the National Film Preservation Foundation premiered the film on its website and will run the film through the end of August.

A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

The Best Years of Our Lives

Read more about Let There Be Light in The Morning News here.

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“Welcome Home: The Story of Scott Ostrom” Awarded 2012 Pulitzer Prize

Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

On April 16, 2012, Denver Post photographer Craig Walker was awarded his second Pulitzer, The 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, for his photo-essay Welcome Home: The Story of Scott Ostrom. Previously, Walker had been named Newspaper Photographer of the Year in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Pictures of the Year International Competition for the collection of photographs he took over 27 months about soldiers engaged in the Iraq war, which included the stunning images documenting the struggles of PTSD sufferer Brian Ostrom.

After serving four years as a reconnaissance man and having deployed twice to Iraq, Ostrom, who is now 27, returned home to the U.S. with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since his discharge, Ostrom has struggled with the demands of daily life, from finding and keeping employment to maintaining healthy relationships. But most of all, he’s struggled to overcome his brutal and haunting memories of Iraq and his guilt for things he did and didn’t do, while fighting a war in which he no longer believes.

Read more about award-winning war photographers in the New York Times article and slideshow, Pulitzer Prizes: The Effects of War at Home (April 16, 2012) here.

Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

Slide Show: Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

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Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

Welcome Home is a series of photographs about Iraq war veteran Brian Scott Ostrom, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, by Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver Post photographer Craig Walker. Walker has been named Newspaper Photographer of the Year in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Pictures of the Year International Competition for the collection of photographs he took over 27 months about soldiers engaged in the Iraq war, which included the stunning images documenting the struggles of PTSD sufferer Brian Ostrom.

After serving four years as a reconnaissance man and having deployed twice to Iraq, Ostrom, who is now 27, returned home to the U.S. with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since his discharge, Ostrom has struggled with the demands of daily life, from finding and keeping employment to maintaining healthy relationships. But most of all, he’s struggled to overcome his brutal and haunting memories of Iraq and his guilt for things he did and didn’t do, while fighting a war in which he no longer believes.

Update: On April 16, 2012, Craig Walker was awarded his second Pulitzer, The 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, for Welcome Home: The Story of Scott Ostrom.

For further details about Walker’s 2012 Pulitzer Prize, please read “Welcome Home: The Story of Scott Ostrom” Awarded 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

Read more about award-winning war photographers in the New York Times article and slideshow, Pulitzer Prizes: The Effects of War at Home (April 16, 2012) here.

Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

Slide Show: Welcome Home, Soldier: The Story of Scott Ostrom

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Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

The death of Christopher Hitchens on Thursday night, of complications from esophageal cancer at the age of 62, ended one of the greater intellectual careers of the last 40 years. Born in Portsmouth, England, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford, Hitchens started his career as a Trotskyite at The New Statesman, working along with noted authors, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, who would become his lifelong friends. In the early 1980s, he moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 2007, and began working for liberal magazine The Nation, writing some of his earliest attacks on the conservative government and American foreign policy.

A prolific author, Hitchens left behind a massive body of critical writing, with more than a dozen books and hundreds of essays targeting everyone from the British Monarchy to Bill Clinton to George Orwell to God, usually with wit and more often than not, vicious and cutting remarks. Even those who hated his politics could not help but admire his skill as a writer and ability to craft a sharp turn of phrase, and many called him a friend.

Perhaps his most famous book was The Missionary Position, a scathing attack on Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity church, an organization that he called a cult. Hitchens described Mother Teresa as a “fraud” and accused her of glorifying poverty to enrich herself and the Catholic church, rather than truly helping the poor. The book infuriated Roman Catholics around the world, as well as politicians and celebrities who he claimed had used the charity and her reputation to mask their own evil deeds.

A later work, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, accused the former Secretary of State of “war crimes,” and argued that Kissinger should be prosecuted for “crimes against humanity, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture” for his involvement in atrocities in Southeast Asia and Central America. As a critic of the Bush administration’s use of torture, Hitchens filmed himself being waterboarded to demonstrate the cruelty of the practice. Hitchens claimed that, “The official lie about this treatment … is that it ‘simulates’ the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning.”

Hitchens had an enviable career arc that began with his own brand of fiery journalism at Britain’s New Statesman and then made its way to America, where he wrote for everyone from The Atlantic and Harper’s to Slate and The New York Times Book Review. He was a legend on the speakers’ circuit, could debate just about anyone on anything and won innumerable awards.

Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer, a troublemaker and was a gift, if it dare be said, from God.

Read much more about the life and enviable work of Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times here, in The Atlantic here and in Vanity Fair here.

The Immoral Rejoinders of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens Gets Waterboarded

Photo-Gallery: Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

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Joy of Destruction: The Human Drive to Destroy

Joy of Destruction: The Human Drive to Destroy

Joy of Destruction is an absurdly funny, but at the same time very sad paper-collage stop-motion animated short film created by Xaver Xylophon, in collaboration with Laura Junger. The film highlights mankind’s propensity to destroy everything, ranging from from the humorous blowing up of balloons or bubble wrap, to the hard reality of terrorism, ecological disasters and bloody human massacres. It’s fairly true that no matter what humans happen to encounter, they will always try to kill it. No matter what it is.

Joy of Destruction: The Human Drive to Destroy

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John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

To my friends: I’d like to share this wisdom with you.
It is from a Xmas card I received this year!

Watch your thoughts for they become words.
Choose your words for they become actions.
Understand your actions for they become habits.
Study your habits for they become your character
Develop your character for it will become your destiny.

Wishing you a joyful new year,
big kiss!
Yoko

In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with the Harlem Community Choir, recorded their message against war, a part of their major multimedia campaign for peace, as a peace anthem, a song that has also become a Christmas standard: Happy Xmas (War Is Over).  According to the John Lennon Museum, Lennon wrote the song as an attempt to get people to see war at a grassroots level and for them to take responsibility for the world around them.

So this is now the beginning of the Christmas season.  And what have you done?  The opening lines of the song, sung so nonchalantly by Lennon, serve as a call-to-action for us all.  The holidays become critical moments in the year for personal assessments, to review our choices.  And to make things better.  If you want it.

John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

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Photos of the Day: Engaged Observers

Photography by: Walker Evans

Photography by: Leonard Freed

Photography by: Larry Towell

Photography by: Larry Towell

Photography by: Mary Ellen Mark

Photos of the Day: Engaged Observers

Documentary Photography: Engaged Observers is a collection of photographs by photographers who  created extended photographic essays that delved deeply into topics of social concern and presented distinct personal visions of the world.  Following in the tradition of Walker Evans and other Depression-era photographers, this series of works focuses on the tradition of socially engaged photographic essays since the 1960s.  Engaged Observers includes photographs from the following projects: The Mennonites by Larry Towell, Streetwise by Mary Ellen Mark, Black in White America by Leonard Freed, Vietnam Inc. by Philip Jones Griffiths, The Sacrifice by James Nachtwey and Migrations: Humanity in Transition by Sebastião Salgado.

Walker Evans: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Mary Ellen Mark: Streetwise (1984) Part I

Larry Towell: The Mennonites

Slide Show: Documentary Photography/Engaged Observers

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