Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Face of War

"Compassion" by Howard Brodie

A few years ago, I was fortunate to catch a few minutes of the PBS series, They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II. Not only did it showcase some absolutely amazing artists, but it also revealed war in its every facet.

Out of the myriad of paintings and drawings done by these artists, this one by YANK Magazine artist Howard Brodie, above, caught my attention in particular. To say it "caught my attention" doesn't do the feeling justice. Instead, like a branding iron, it seared its message onto - and into - my heart. This is the emotional and psychological impact of war - and often, these wounds take far longer to heal than physical wounds. In fact, sometimes these wounds simply don't heal. World War II veterans, to this day, still experience nightmares and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And why shouldn't they? Even though it's been more than 60 years, the things they saw and did cannot be forgotten.

Brodie drew this picture after witnessing the following:
I remember the young soldier well, he screamed, he was just out of control, and he screamed, and there was another soldier next to him who consoled him, and embraced him. That was a moving moment for me, to see that compassion in combat. And these are the things a person feels when he's in proximity to death-- his buddy, that next human being, that person in the foxhole is the most important person in your life.

There has been a great deal of study done on the bond of brotherhood that forms between soldiers when they are at war, a bond that many cannot even fully describe. But this drawing says it all - and more. It's a theme I'm exploring in my current novel, one which has caused me to delve into the psyche of a soldier who has experienced combat and the death of fellow comrades.
It's intensely sobering, and I doubt that I will ever be able to fully capture, or understand, such psychological damage. That's why I printed this picture and taped it next to my computer. It's a constant reminder of what our soldiers went through and what they continue to go through. But it's also a reminder of the remarkable compassion and love that human beings can feel toward one another in the midst of horror. And that is definitely worth remembering.


  1. Sometimes a picture works so well, maybe even better than words, because of the realism caught in the emotional depiction, here the actual face where we see the pain. What a great inspiration to inform your writing!

  2. I so admire you for delving into this area. I don't think I am strong enough to go there. But I can't wait to hear about what it brings out in your writing!

  3. Joanne - I think you're right. I don't know that I could even begin to attempt to describe the emotion in this picture. It says it all by itself. :-)

    Heidi - I know I'll never fully comprehend what these men went through, but I hope I can at least scratch the surface and try to reveal some of their pain to give us all a better understanding of their sacrifices. :-)

  4. Reminds me of scenes from Band of Brother. War artists are incredible, risking their own lives to capture the experiences of those fighting for our freedom.

  5. Aren't these war artists amazing. That's a truly awesome picture. How could anyone capture all that emotion in words?

  6. Tess - I agree. War artists are extremely courageous, and so very talented. I can imagine that they created many of these drawings with tears in their eyes.

    Shirley - I think in this instance, it can't be captured in words. I know I sure couldn't do it. :-)

  7. As a vet, I have experienced this bond to a degree. I have watched as the buses rolled in during the first Desert Storm. Watched as the reality of military duty set in. And watched as this reality reminded us of what we truly were offering to our country.

  8. SW - Thank you for your service to our country. :-)


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