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February 14, 2010

War is Personal – World Press

Of all the World Press Photo award winners announced Friday, the picture that seems to be generating the most word-of-mouth is one by Eugene Richards. Winner of the Contemporary issues category, the photo of the severely injured Sgt. José Pequeño and his mother is part of a series of stories on Iraq veterans. Below, we've republished the post we originally ran on June 28, 2008.



"War all comes down to these little tiny stories about people's lives that will never be the same."

– Eugene Richards

Looking back, I'm certain the depiction of trauma and loss suffered by Iraq veterans, as documented by so many fine photographers, will be recognized as playing a critical role in galvanizing the American public against an otherwise fundamentally sanitized war.

At BAGnewsNotes, I've looked at many difficult images over the past few years, including Todd Heisler's essay, "Final Salute"; "Nina Berman's "Marine Wedding" photograph of Ty Ziegel and Renee Kline — since divorced; Andrew Lichtenstein's photo of a funeral rehearsal in Modesto; and the haunting image by Barry Gutierrez just last week of Sgt. Ryan John Baum with his daughter, Leia, on his chest.

The photo above was taken by Eugene Richards as part of a series he is developing with The Nation Institute. Sgt. José Pequeño suffered a devastating brain injury from a grenade tossed into his Humvee in March 2006.

In his mother's arms, I hardly recall a more visceral sensation of the senselessness of the Iraq campaign. Given the angle, Pequeno's brain injury draws an unavoidable analogy between war and the capacity for thought. Ultimately, there is no rationalizing or comparing one devastating form of injury with another. In Sgt. Pequeno's case, however, the war has literally caused him to lose his mind.

War Is Personal: Sgt. José Pequeño (
Eugene Richards On "War is Personal" (Photo District News)
Jose Pequeno (Caring Bridge)
A New Home for Chief Pequeno (4/60 New Hampshire Public Radio)

(h/t: John. image: Eugene Richards)

  • Elenchus in Aporia

    Laches is denied

  • thomas

    It is interesting that this image, as well as the others you’ve linked to here, are united not just in their depiction of the bodily destructiveness of war, but they are also all really moving depictions of love. Perhaps they even say as much about love as they do war. If war is violence enacted in the physical world in an effort to reshape the organization of power, maybe the truth of these images lies in their depicting a gentleness and fidelity in love that exists outside of that effort and endures even the gravest injury. I don’t know.
    Also interesting is that without the accompanying story there really isn’t much in this image that makes it a war image. Could be an auto, hunting or factory accident. And if this all comes down to the tiny stories of trauma shifting the course of people’s lives, the implication is even more overwhelming: That this contest between compassionate caring and indifferent horror makes war not so very different from the rest of human experience.

  • gmoke

    Support by their community after leaving the service is an important part of recovery from PTSD, according to what I’ve read. Making a political football of veterans removes that support and can be detrimental to their healing. I think of this every time I hear a Republican talk about how “Liberals” or “Democrats” don’t support the troops.
    There are already great advances in traumatic brain injury treatment and prosthetics as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What an incalculable price to pay for medical progress.

  • Yg Bluig

    That photo of Sgt. Pequeno and his mother made me tear up the first time I saw it two years ago, and it’s doing it to me again now.
    My god.

  • Alonzo Riley

    I guess I’m just horribly cold but why is it that mothers are so surprised when they find out their kids have been killed? They went to war to kill and/or be killed.

    • Psbumblebee

      Shut up you jerk off. I am the mother of someone in the military. They join the military to serve the country they love-NOT to kill or be killed. What a shallow, little boy you are.

  • Benny_s


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