With over 12 years of combat under our belts as a nation, it stands to reason that the imagery of the conflict in Afghanistan is varied, complex, and vivid. Many books have been written on the “war that never ends”, but none have told the story as visually as Robert L. Cunningham’s new book Afghanistan On the Bounce: Boots on the Ground with the U.S. Military and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It’s a book that will enthrall readers from the first page to the last image and cause them to start all over again.
While there have been a handful of war photographers lucky enough to capture a single image and build a reputation around it, Cunningham has created a book with MANY photographs, stories, diagrams, and stunning images. Readers will not only be introduced to these, but Afghanistan On The Bounce is sprinkled with several points of interaction that rope the reader into becoming a part of it.
Cunningham does more than compile a list of experiences he encountered during his four months as an embedded photo journalist with ISAF. He risked his life to capture the essence of what our service men and women experience in the Middle East during active wartime. He shares why we need to honor those who serve with our armed forces, regardless of our political views and what we should know about what our brave service members feel and see every day.
One of the hardest things to successfully accomplish for a photo journalist is describing why our uniformed service members are misunderstood. Cunningham shows a side of our troops while they aren’t engaged in the heat of battle. Finally, he provides insights and lessons learned about the deep bonds these Soldiers forge with one another over the course of deployment.
“I’m the luckiest man alive,” writes Cunningham. “I am not a Soldier, but I’ve had the privilege of living with our men and women at arms and witnessing their courage and dedication. I have been welcomed by those heroes as a brother, though I’ve sometimes been thought of as crazy for [doing this].”
One of my favorite sections of the book that I think perfectly encapsulates the experience of combat is this:
“War is a beast thirsting for souls. You wonder how you’re going to remain human in an inhumane environment. How will you keep from becoming the monster you hunt? And the answer is in those short happy moments, bursts of laughter over a joke, a song belted out around a makeshift barbecue, a hug for a comrade who’s just gotten bad news. Your unit is a larger form of life, the flesh and blood of its unique Soldiers sinewed together to build the whole.”
I couldn’t have said it better. And Afghanistan On The Bounce couldn’t have done a better job of showing it.
All photos courtesy of Robert L. Cunngingham and Insight Editions Publishing.