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Tuesday, 21 May 2013 00:00

The Grey Line

by Jo Metson Scott (Dewi Lewis Publishing, £30)
by Michal Boncza

A book on the troops who challenged the legitimacy of the Iraq conflict

The Grey Line negates on the spot the old adage of not judging a book by its cover. Its innovative scrapbook-style design instantly establishes immediacy and awakens curiosity.

Inside, the pages are filled with sensitively taken portraits of mostly US but also some British Iraq war veterans who refused - at different stages - to participate in the criminal "war on terror" unleashed by their respective governments.

Taken by Jo Metson Scott as snapshots in the natural milieu of each individual subject, the images record ordinary working-class surroundings laden with melancholy but also charged with the vets' own sense of liberation and palpably regained self-worth.

They are aided by highly personal and laconic comments by each individual whose impact is augmented by being presented in their own handwriting.

Every one of these veterans ended up challenging the falsity of the premises of the Iraq war or the manner of its conduct and denounced the deceptions they fell prey to.

Dishonourably and honourably discharged, jailed as conscientious objectors, often derided as traitors, disowned by family or suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) they are, in their own words, all morally richer by the critical insights they've gained.

Many like the highly decorated Maggie (left) - who along with 40 others publicly threw away her medals - have become active in veteran anti-war movements. "No amount of medals, flags or banners can cover the amount of human suffering, I don't want this garbage!" she states unequivocally.

Jon Turner co-funded Combat Paper, which recycles combat uniforms into paper, whose aims are to help veterans come to terms with their experiences through art.

Aged 18, he joined the marines in 2003 and left three years later with PTSD and a brain injury. He now finds solace in writing poetry, making paper art and teaching.

Aidan Delgado served in Abu Ghraib where he saw his mates kill unarmed prisoners at point-blank range. He was 19 at the time and remembers thinking: "Whoa, what the fuck is going on here?" After four months he applied for conscientious objector status that was approved.

"I had a structure of beliefs," confides another veteran (above), who was at a loss as to how he allowed himself to be conned into enlisting. "I wasn't apolitical ... I just wasn't politicised at that time. I knew it was all bullshit."

These are engrossing and moving vignettes of unmitigated personal courage borne out of a moral rectitude forged literally in a battle against imperial war itself.

A redemptory read.

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