Rain fell on the flags that lined glistening Route 6A on Cape Cod yesterday. I went to no parades, thanked no one for their service. Because I’m like most of the Americans veteran and journalist Elliott Woods describes in his TEDx talk, “Ever After: Finding Fulfillment in the Aftermath of War,” a title that doesn’t even begin to capture the power of his message. Only one in 75 Americans have any direct connection to the conflicts that have been unfolding for a generation in the Middle East. Even that number is probably wildly conservative. Elliott served. He returned home. And he became a journalist to return overseas again and again to document the lives of soldiers and the people who live in the countries where the wars play out, far far from the glistening roads of Cape Cod, or Kansas, or California. Here’s his talk:
He quotes Joseph Conrad:
“My task, which I am trying to achieve, is by the power of the written work, to make you hear, to make you feel. It is, before all, to make you see.”
But then he asks for more. Not just for us to look, to see, but to stare. Look at the photographs Elliott has taken of soldiers, and ask:
What have those eyes seen? What does the world look like through those eyes? And stare into your own eyes in the mirror and ask, what responsibility do I have in all that has been done in our name…as a voter, as a citizen, as a consumer, and as a conscious human being?
What will those soldiers carry with them always, that can never be undone? And what of the destroyed lives and decimated lands of the people in whose countries we fight?
Who do we vote for? Do they know the wars first hand? Do they have children at risk? Increasingly, the answer is no.
Elliott asks, “What was asked of them? Why did they kill so many people? And why did they die?”
Memorial Days. In the plural.