USA: soldier, icon of ‘victory in Iraq’; now a veteran, his life in ruins

Iraq war, and Dick Cheney's Halliburton, cartoon

From British weekly The Observer:

A picture made him a hero.

Then his life fell apart

A photographer’s lens caught James Blake Miller smeared with blood and dirt during the battle for Falluja.

In his eyes, America saw the steely determination that would bring victory in Iraq; now stress and divorce have made him a casualty of the war

Paul Harris in New York

Sunday July 2, 2006

Combat can change a life in a second.

The snap of a sniper’s bullet or the blast of a bomb will instantly end it or turn a healthy body into a maimed wreck.

But for US marine James Blake Miller what changed his life was the sudden shutter click of a war photographer’s camera.

On a rooftop in Falluja, Miller was captured in a picture that has become one of the enduring images of the Iraq war.

It showed his wan face, streaked with mud and blood, in a moment of reflection.

His eyes stared out, tired yet determined. From his lips drooped a cigarette, curling a wisp of thin pale smoke.

That moment saw Miller, an ordinary soldier from the hills of Kentucky, turn into Marlboro Man, an everyday American hero.

The image hit the world on 10 November, 2004, as US marines stormed into Falluja to try to end a war that was supposed to have finished more than a year earlier.

It appeared on newspaper front pages and made the cover of Time.

Miller’s image became a symbol of steely resolve, of weary-yet-determined struggle, of the toughness of the American fighting man having a cigarette break before finishing the job.

It captured a moment when most Americans still thought the invasion of Iraq a worthy undertaking.

Now Miller is a different symbol in a different time.

As the war has dragged on, Miller’s life has collapsed in the face of post-traumatic stress disorder.

He draws a disability pension for his condition and his personal life is a wreck.

He suffers from nightmares, panic attacks and survivor’s guilt.

Despite the immense goodwill of a grateful nation, Miller has slumped into struggle and despair.

Last week came the news that he and his childhood sweetheart, Jessica, were getting divorced.

Marlboro Man is no longer an icon for the American warrior ethic.

He is a symbol of pain and suffering and the enormous problems endured by veterans returning home.

He has become the public face of shell-shock.

No longer the victor, Miller has become one of the war’s victims.

In the Appalachian hills which Miller calls home, the word for grandfather is ‘papaw’.

Miller’s step-papaw, Joe Lee, was a Vietnam veteran.

In interviews Miller has described how Papaw Joe Lee would get drunk and tell war stories.

Then Papaw would get upset and tearful at the memories of death and killing in Vietnam and eventually his wife, fearful of scaring the grandchildren, would tell him to be quiet.

War crimes investigation on Fallujah: here.

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