Iraq War Vets Transforming Trauma
MARFA, Texas, Sep 19 (IPS) - By using the written word and art, veterans of the U.S. occupation of Iraq are transforming their trauma into a message of both healing and resistance to the failed U.S. adventure.
"If I say nothing, I have failed," writes veteran Drew Cameron, "If I do nothing, I am guilty. If I live by these ideals of democracy I can see that war is failure."
Cameron began writing about his experiences in
"It wasn't until after I'd been back that I tried to shut off my experiences in
"We were trained to fight and win battles," he said. "I was in artillery, I was trained to blow shit up. We weren't there to rebuild anything or help the Iraqi people."
His writing became some of the first of what would evolve into the Warrior Writers Project, which uses writing and artistic workshops based on veterans' experiences in the military and Iraq to bring their experiences to light and connect with one another, creating a context for both healing and resisting what their experience in the military has done to them.
"The writing from the workshops is compiled into books, performances and exhibits that provide a lens into the hearts of people who have a deep and intimate relationship with the Iraq war," their mission statement reads.
Writings from the first workshops were made into the book, "Warrior Writers: Move, Shoot and Communicate". A second book, "Re-making Sense", has also been released.
"The title comes from the goal of remaking sense of our relationship with the war, of our lives, of what we do now, as veterans," Cameron told IPS.
The Warrior Writers have also organised exhibits that showcase photographs taken by members in
Cameron told IPS he feels the work is important "for catharsis and reconciliation, and also so people can hear our side of the story."
Cameron was based at
"I remember the images and stories coming out were different from what we were seeing on the ground," he explained. "Our intelligence reports that briefed us on attacks against us and how we were getting hit, almost none of this was in the news. I remember being hit for seven days straight by mortars, but none of this was ever in the news."
"The fundamental civil society and infrastructure has been so changed and altered in
This influenced Cameron heavily. He feels that both projects he is involved in are ways to show the truth to the
Cameron co-founded and operates a paper mill called the People's Republic of Paper (PRP) with artist Drew Matott, who founded the Green Door Studio in
By turning their uniforms into paper, soldiers utilise art to heal their trauma from the occupation of
"The whole point is to create a space for vets to come in and in a closed context talk with each other about what they experienced in
"My energy is focused on helping folks heal," he added. "One thing we do is show before and after art pieces. Usually the first pieces are very, very dark, when they [veterans] first came in. Then we show their later projects, which reveal the healing that has taken place within them, so it's pretty optimistic."
Cameron told IPS that for him, "To be able to take the uniform and reclaim it into what I want it to be is a deeply transformational and healing act."
John Michael Turner, a former U.S. Marine machine gunner, was the second veteran to join the project.
Turner was still in the military when he moved to
"I heard about the project that day and had a stack of uniforms in my trunk," Turner told IPS. "So my first night in
Turner, who gave powerful testimony at the Winter Soldier hearings last spring, added, "It is heartbreaking to see there are still people that believe we should be over there. Open your eyes and listen to what we have to say! I just want people to open their eyes and see what is going on, and what is being done over there."
Through the project, Turner has found a conduit for healing what his time and actions in
By transforming his experiences and feelings into art, Turner said, "I can take a desert blouse and cut it up and turn it into a piece of paper. Then I have a blank piece of paper and put one of my poems there for other people to experience it, and for that minute they read it, they can see it through my eyes."
Turner admitted to IPS that while he has found some relief for his trauma, "I still struggle. The problem is there is so much I need to reclaim."
Cameron believes the work is ongoing as well.
"I can see it in my own writing -- that the anger, gore and graphic frustration flows out, then transitions into a deeper reflection and contemplation about how do we approach the cultural relationship between militarism and our society," he told IPS. "The military [in
Turner feels the work is critical. "We have to take this work and work together, all of us veterans, and help each other, or we'll destroy ourselves."
The project has had exhibitions around the country in cities like