It Is the Young Who Suffer, Die in America’s Wars

A young soldier's grave.In Iraq, the youngest suffer the most: a third of American deaths have been under 21, and more than half of those were in the lowest ranks:

In a hilltop graveyard overlooking this Stillaguamish River village lies a young soldier killed in the infancy of the Iraq war.

Army Spc. Justin W. Hebert’s story is sad and sadly unremarkable, a tragedy bound up in the tale of a grinding war that took young lives with grievous regularity. Nearly one-third of U.S. troops killed in Iraq were age 18 to 21. Well over half were in the lowest enlisted ranks.

For Hebert, the Army was an adventure. But it didn’t last long.

As an Iraq veteran, combat deaths like Justin Hebert’s or homefront suicides like Jared Hagemann’s not only fill me with grief, but also indescribable guilt. Grief, for these men are much too young to have needlessly die in a needless war — I can only imagine the suffering their family must be going through: their wives, their children, and their parents must live with the knowledge that their sons (or daughters) died for a lie.

And guilt, for I feel I have not done enough to dissuade young Americans to not participate in this injustice. Many young men and women have contacted me to inform me that my photography have “inspired” them into “service” of their country. I do not know how I would feel if I were to learn that these very same young Americans died during their “service.”

I wish I could tell them what awaits them: that they will bear a disproportionate number of the deaths in these wars, and if they survive, suffer massive psychological trauma that compels their comrade-in-arms to commit an increasing number of suicides. And that once the military is done with them, they will face disproportionately high unemployment rates, homelessness, and higher risk for suicides.

I feel personally responsible for my fellow veterans’ suffering and deaths. It is a shame and the ultimate tragedy that most Americans do not feel the same.

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