It seems to me that we valorize soldiers and military service in contemporary American culture. That is to say, we see soldiers as heroes because, according to a patriotic narrative, they protect freedom and keep America safe. This idea is ubiquitous in our public discourse and cultural messaging, often informing our collective response to veterans, which is usually gratitude. Yet, when we valorize soldier service in relation to a patriotic frame, we become unable to imagine a more nuanced soldier experience in war and importantly, after war. Dear Madison is my attempt to throw light on a more complex war experience as opposed to the limited one portrayed in our patriotic narrative. In this project, which I approach ethnographically, I try to arrive at a different truth about war through the stories of some veterans (myself included) of our current wars. The idea of defending freedom and an American way of life are abstractions; the lived experience of people affected by political violence is concrete. It is the space between these two poles – the envisaged soldier life and the lived experience – which I explore in this creative project. So, in a sense, this project is about memory – a remembered war experience in opposition to the somewhat formulated memory claimed by a patriotic narrative and its public display. The title, Dear Madison, derives from a letter that I received when I was in Iraq from a young girl named Madison. This project is my response to her note, more than a decade late. 

 
 
  Metro Exit at Bethesda Station, Washington, D.C.

Metro Exit at Bethesda Station, Washington, D.C.

 
  Toy Soldiers Tagged with Dead Soldier Names

Toy Soldiers Tagged with Dead Soldier Names

 
 

...greeting Madison

Dear Madison_website.jpg
 

...remembering an Iraqi mother

Dear Madison_website2.jpg
 

...thinking about Jay's glass box

Dear Madison_website3.jpg
 

...saying goodbye to Madison

Dear Madison_website4.jpg
 
 
  Wounded Warrior Transport, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Wounded Warrior Transport, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

 
  United States Marine Corps War Memorial Print, Parking Lot

United States Marine Corps War Memorial Print, Parking Lot

 
 
 
 
 

This is an abridged version of a larger work, Dear Madison, comprising of a photo zine and 10,000 word letter to Madison.

Copyright 2017 by John Bechtold