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Volume 30 Number 1
Fall 2007

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vietnam veteran
Photo by Jeffrey Wolin; courtesy Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

Inconvenient Stories

Jeff Wolin counts himself among the lucky ones. During the Vietnam War, he drew a "high enough" number in the draft lottery, meaning he "did not have to ponder the difficult moral question of whether or not to serve in Vietnam." The lives of those who did serve are chronicled in Wolin’s photography exhibition and new book Inconvenient Stories: Portraits of Vietnam War Veterans (Umbrage Editions, 2007).

Beginning in 1992, Wolin--now Ruth N. Halls professor of photography in the School of Fine Arts at IU Bloomington--photographed veterans and recorded their stories. Wolin says the resulting collection of 50 photographs and war stories "add to our understanding of how the trauma of war affects both combatants and civilians caught in the crossfire."

Images of the veterans are accompanied by interview excerpts and photographs of them as young soldiers. U.S. Army veteran R. Michael Rosensweig, who served two years in Vietnam, says this in the words posted next to his image: "War just leaves scars that will never heal up in your head because of the overall trauma. The first person I ever had to kill was an eight-year old boy. . . . A little boy ran out of the village with a grenade in his hand heading straight for a truckload of GI’s. . . . We didn’t have a choice. If we hadn’t killed him he would have ended up throwing it in a truckload of GI’s. There are too many other instances like this to list and I say that in all sincerity. I just can’t talk about them. . . . You know, society did not give us the right to get angry and shout. If we did that we were considered lethal. I got fired more than once just for doing nothing more than anybody else would have done. . . . The reason I was given was because when I get mad, all people see in my eyes is death."

Inconvenient Stories was on exhibit at the IU Art Museum and is now traveling. Support for the exhibition was provided by the Ruth N. Halls Foundation and the New Frontiers in Arts and Humanities program of the IU Office of the Vice Provost for Research.