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The War Within

Posted: 06/29/2012 8:41 am

David Wood's story "The War Within," the centerpiece of this week's double issue of Huffington, contains many striking sentences, but this one stood out to me: "While the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned the trauma of war 25 centuries ago in his account of the battle of Marathon, it wasn't until 1980 that American psychiatry formally recognized and named the condition, describing PTSD as an injury caused by an outside stimulus rather than by an internal human weakness."

Bringing such depth and context to the effort of understanding the true costs of war goes some way toward demonstrating why David, HuffPost's senior military correspondent, won a Pulitzer Prize in April for national reporting. His series "Beyond the Battlefield" was a ten-part multimedia plunge into the struggles and sacrifices of severely wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. David, who has logged more than four decades as a reporter in combat zones across the globe, brought extraordinary experience and empathy to his project, speaking not only to wounded veterans but to the vast constellation of people whose lives they touch, from family, friends and fellow soldiers to the surgeons, rehabilitation therapists, and prosthetic engineers who ease the transition from war to civilian life.

"The War Within" comes at a crucial time: with major combat operations in Iraq ended and scaling back in Afghanistan -- not to mention the approaching spectacle of a presidential election -- the ongoing struggles of America's soldiers are something less than a national priority. Today's wounded veterans re-enter a civilian society that has, as David puts it, "largely disconnected itself from military service and now, according to polls, tired of war."

That is why we are lucky to have David on the story. In this issue, he once again puts the spotlight on veterans, including Natasha Young, who found purpose and stability in the Marines after a troubled childhood, and served two tours in Iraq. There, she witnessed horrors that led to thoughts of suicide: roadside bomb blasts that killed and maimed her fellow Marines, and later, a job that required her to gather the belongings of fallen soldiers. And she is hardly alone. About 14 percent of post-9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD, serving out what one combat medic calls a "lifetime sentence."

More than anything else, the power of David's writing lies in his ability to empathize as he delves into an important, if little-discussed, part of our country's history. (His background as a Quaker and a conscientious objector is a quiet undercurrent in his work.) The British historian Simon Schama, also glancing back to the ancients, has noted that "the Greek word historia meant, and was used from the very beginning by Herodotus as, 'inquiry.'" "The War Within" is the latest installment of David's own inquiry into the costs of America's wars, told in the voices of those who will continue to fight them for decades to come. I am so grateful that Huffington is showcasing his work, especially as we celebrate, and reflect on, the Fourth of July.

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