War Diaries Exhibit Portrays Piece of the Veteran Experience

by Roy Lyle

In 2003, Tim McLaughlin was shipped overseas to invade Iraq, Peter Maass was sent to write about the invasion by New York Times Magazine and Gary Knight was commissioned to take photos of it for Newsweek.

The brief period of time in which the three men’s lives crossed paths is now showcased in a new exhibit in the Viewpoint Gallery in the Student Center, highlighting McLaughlin and his war diary in particular. The exhibit is an authentic portrayal of the Iraq war from three men who knew it intimately as soldiers and journalists.

Lt. Tim McLaughlin commanded a Marine Corps tank into Iraq during the invasion of the country in 2003, bringing with him a flag that was given to him by a family friend. For a minute and a half, the flag would cover the head of the statue of Saddam Hussein which stood in Firdos Square before it was torn down by American troops.

There’s a bounty of significance to be found in McLaughlin’s lived experiences, as well as in the writing of Peter Maass and the photographs of Gary Knight. The meaningfulness of McLaughlin’s stories are not just in Firdos Square, but in all the events and feelings told by the three perspectives of the exhibit.

It only takes a walk through the exhibit to understand why his diaries are the highlighted piece of the exhibit. They, more than any other piece of the exhibit, display what it means to be a soldier, what it meant to be in the invasion of Iraq and what it means to be Tim McLaughlin.

On the cover of his diary, McLaughlin wrote a quote from the apocalyptic Book of Revelations, “His horse was named Death…And Hell Followed Them.” On one page, McLaughlin writes to a soldier’s parents, telling them their son was accidentally shot by another soldier. On one page is a letter to Victoria’s Secret. On yet another page, we see a postcard with a kitten on it captioned “When you masturbate… God kills a kitten.”

It’s almost difficult to comprehend. At once, the exhibit shows how humanity survives in a warzone, but at the same time becomes scarred by the experience. McLaughlin constantly describes his day to day duties as a soldiers, including the friends he lost and the people he killed himself and yet constantly writes down jokes and other distractions from what he called “the boredom of war.”

At a panel last Thursday, the day after the grand opening of the exhibit, McLaughlin talked about Tim O’Brien’s, “The Things They Carried” and talked about the complications of how to tell a true war story. Through the synthesis of each individual piece of the exhibit (from McLaughlin’s diaries, to Knight’s storytelling photos of the soldiers, to Maass’ insightful stories) different aspects of the Iraq war are seen more thoroughly and honestly.