Book Review: “Infidel” by Tim Hetherington: A Gripping Tale of Brotherhood and War

Posted: September 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

In the mail already…check out the video to the right.  I can’t imagine what these guys must’ve had to endure. God Bless each one of them.

From the Foreward by Sebastian Junger – ABC News

Their name for us was ‘Infidel’. We were in the Korengal Valley, in eastern Afghanistan, and the US military could listen in on enemy radio communications in the area. ‘The infidel are at their base.’ Sometimes they called us much worse things, but ‘infidel’ was thier favourite, and after a while the men began to tattoo the word in huge letters across their chests.

A certain amount of warface is posturing, in the Korengal the fighting happened at several hundred metres, so for the most part this posturing was lost on the enemy. It was mainly meant to be appreciated by the other men in the unit.

Along with ‘Infidel’, the soldiers also tattooed bullets and bombs and eagle wings and names of their dead on their arms. then on quiet days they lifted weights so that these tattoos were stretched across masses of muscle that Achilles would have balked at.

“It seemed to be the definition of a moment where there’s no story to tell, and yet that wasn’t quite true. Creeping through the outpost came Tim, camera in hand, grabbing photographs of the soldiers as they slept. ‘You never see them like this,’ he said to me later. ‘They always look so tough, but when they’re asleep they look like little boys. They look the way their mothers probably remember them.’

He was absolutely right. I opened my notebook and wrote a description of what it was like to be at one of the most exposed outposts in the entire American sector with virtually every man asleep.

The truth was that Tim saw things very differently from the way I did; he wasn’t looking for dynamism so much as for beauty or strangeness or even ugliness. There were a lot of pin-up girls in the hooches, for example, and there were also a lot of flystrips and a lot of ammunition. Sometimes those three things converged on a bedpost in ways that were easy to overlook until you noticed Tim staring at them intently while adjusting the aperture on his camera.

Infidel is an intimate portrait of a single U.S. platoon, assigned to an outpost in the Korengal Valley-an area considered one of the most dangerous Afghan postings in the war against the Taliban-but it is as much about love and male vulnerability as it is about bravery and war.

Embedded with writer Sebastian Junger, and shooting over the course of one year, photographer Tim Hetherington made a series of images that prove surprisingly tender in their depiction of camaraderie and vulnerability (among the most moving is a series of the platoon sleeping).

Alongside revealing interviews with Hetherington’s subjects and an introduction by Junger (with whom Hetherington co-directed the award-winning film Restrepo, about the work of the battalion), the book is also illustrated with graphics of the tattoos the soldiers gave each other in the camp. The title Infidel is taken from the tattoo the men adopted as a badge of their comradeship. Warm, moving and full of humor, this book is a tribute to the “rough men ready to do violence on our behalf” and a provocative contribution to the documentation of war in our time.

Get the book here

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