As of June 26, 2014, there have been 4,489 American casualties since the U.S. invaded Iraq on the false claims of weapons of mass destruction in 2003. Andrew Lichenstein’s book “Never Coming Home” (2007, Charta) presents images from 39 of the 60 or so funerals he photographed between 2003 and 2006. Looking at each image, and reading the interviews from family members, is a very sad experience. This book will, or should, make you cry. Each image is deeply personal, and exudes the sense of loss for the family, community and reader. Lichtenstein’s vision is clear and concise, and his own sense of loss is also apparent. He seems to be silently grieving as well.
It is most difficult to read the interviews in which wives and parents say they think the war was justified, even when the facts of official deception are now known. It is not clear if they didn’t know of the deception that led to war, or if they chose to ignore it. This leads me to wonder how we can avoid repeating such tragedies in the future. Middle and lower class kids enlist, and believe they’re serving their country. Some come home physically wounded, and many more come home psychologically wounded. We provide inadequate health care and little or no support for returning solders. In 2013, there were over 57,000 homeless veterans. Now the sectarian hatreds that the U.S military were barely able to suppress have returned with a vengeance. Amazingly, the same officials who lied to us in 2003 are again telling us that we should re-occupy Iraq. Of course, they won’t be fighting, and very few of their family members will either.
Lichenstein’s powerful images don’t dwell on the policies that got us into war, but simply and elegantly show us the tragic aftermath. A seasoned photojournalist, he knows how to tell a story one image at a time, and how to set the stage for us to experience this profound loss one funeral at a time. The images balance the most painful moments when caskets are interred, crying friends embrace, and swollen faces stare blankly. Images of the ephemera of the moments, such as a dozen used tissues piled up around a chair, provide a moment of reflection. Children, flags and old family photographs reoccur throughout the book and the lighting is always natural and somber.
This book should be required material for everyone, and especially for those who want to enlist, and for those who want to send our troops to war. The title would have been more effective if it weren’t so literal and I wish it were hardcover, wrapped in a soft, velvety cloth, which would add the tactile sense of finality this lovingly craft tome so effectively conveys.