Dear Madison

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Harris, Alex

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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. I approach this idea ethnographically, 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. I combine still photography, transcribed short audio documentary and narrative to arrive at a more substantive reality about the complexity of a lived and remembered war experience. So, in a sense, this is a project 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. Looking for a way to weave stories about my war experience with the experiences of other veterans, I set the written project in epistolary form as a letter to Madison. The project is my response to her note, more than a decade late.





Bechtold, John (2017). Dear Madison. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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