Author: Jim Lommasson
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Date of Publication: May 2015
Date of Review: July 2015
Reading Jim Lommasson’s “Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories—Life after Iraq and Afghanistan” is challenging because of what it doesn’t say. Exit Wounds doesn’t tell you how you should feel about our current wars. You won’t walk about thinking, “I understand why we are in Iraq.” Your own opinions, ones you formed before reading “Exit Wounds,” will appear as fragments of an incomplete story. There is no timeline; you won’t see a map of strongholds and frontlines. Inevitably, you’ll see someone like you, wearing average clothes, sitting in a living room or office like yours. The difference is, the man or woman pictured has a story to tell—one that is never easy to hear, tell…or live through.
“People join the military not to fight wars, but for all the benefits. It’s the closest thing any of us ever had to real socialism,” recounts Lelyn Masters, who then lists specific reasons for enlisting: bills, family obligations like child support, a college education, VA healthcare, a career, and a pension. Only a handful of narrators mention a desire to sacrifice themselves for their country. However, Exit Wounds isn’t about joining the Army, Navy, or Marines.
Further, though soldiers, Marines, and sailors tell snippets of their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, cumulatively this book is true to its title: it is about exit wounds, specifically the kind you can’t see. “You can have two guys that sat side-by-side in that Humvee for six or seven months, driving down the streets of Iraq getting shot at, and they’ll come out with vastly different perspectives,” recounts Ashkan Bayatpour (p. 93). It’s the “vastly different perspectives” that make “Exit Wounds” especially challenging, bringing it more into the realm of visual anthropology and visual ethnographies.
I found myself understanding Chanan Suarez Diaz strong anti-war stance, even personally relating to his life outside of the military. Immediately following Diaz’ narrative is Michael Cambell’s piece, which is so challenging even the author steps outside of his objectivity. Diaz and Cambell’s stories are the same and opposite, one is actively against war, while Cambell states: “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or Jihad brotherhood would destroy our economy and the country that I love in an instant if they thought they could get it done. I have seen the hate in their eyes, and please, if you believe anything I say, believe this: they will be back, and it will be worse—we better stay in step!” Before you judge Cambell’s opinion about the war in the Middle East, understand that Cambell does not deny the collateral damage of war, when soldiers, Marines, and sailors return home, which makes his words even harder to dismiss. He’s weighed the cost (he knows the cost), yet he still firmly believes in our involvement in the Middle East.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of “Exit Wounds” is the guidance it gives the reader for talking with and listening to those returning from war. Myla Haider states, “I think people need to keep in mind that when they are thanking somebody for what they did over there, sometimes that involves killing a child. It comes with the job.” (p. 69). Others feel grateful for the thanks, and still some feel confused, “I just did my job; you don’t need to thank me.” Philip Nannery emphatically states: “All I’ve ever wanted since coming home from war is for someone who has never been to war to sit down and frankly tell me they will never understand what I’ve been through.” (p. 150)
A hot-button issue, sexual violence in the military, is brought up a few times. Notably, Rick Lawson’s story gets at the heart of the culture of sexual violence in some military institutions. I was particularly intrigued because I recently read “Not Gay” by Jane Ward (NYU Press, Aug. 2015 release) who torturously dismisses the very experiences Lawson writes about. I hope Jane read Exit Wounds. (p. 103, Rick Lawson; See also, “In Debate Over Military Sexual Assault, Men Are Overlooked Victims,” The New York Times, June 6, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/in-debate-over-military-sexual-assault-men-are-overlooked-victims.html?_r=0 )
Heather Wakehouse, similar to Catherine Madison’s upcoming The War Came Home with Him, (Univ. of Minnesota Press, Sept. 2015 release) states, “My war was here. The person I’m supposed to trust most in the world was treating me like an enemy and reminding me that I might be the enemy…I still love him. I don’t pity him at all. And I don’t hold grudges for stuff that has happened.” (Exit Wounds, p. 173). Heather’s story reminds us that these “exit wounds” hurt more than those people who were in war-torn areas; the casualties continue at home, permeating our families and communities.
Juxtaposition could have felt manipulating, and almost did, until I reached the very last story, that of Mary Geddry, who wrote “an open letter to three Iraqi women.” (p.199). Geddry tells her own story, one she shares with her son who was deployed to Iraq, and in so doing, begins a dialogue that both countries need to share.
If you’re still wondering if you should read Exit Wounds, I’ll leave you with the insight of one artist and veteran. Ehren Tool summarizes specifically why we must critically think about these current wars: “I really don’t care if you’re for or against the war, but ignorance of the war is inexcusable to me.” (p. 119)