Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam

This was a tough one for me—not because there weren’t plenty of points of entry, design-wise, but because it was obviously a touchy subject for a lot of people, and I wanted to be respectful of that. I didn’t want the design to feel preachy or over-confident, and certainly not glib or tricky.

The folks at the publisher liked the idea of a photo that seemed to be in both times at once—one side black and white, one side color, that sort of thing. I was never really able to make it work, but these are the closest I got, neither of which really get the idea across:

Thinking of the most potent symbols of the two wars, I couldn’t help but think of the Vietnam Memorial. What more powerful symbol of the connection between the two wars could there be than continuing that list of those who died in Vietnam with the new list of those who are dying now in Iraq. Print the book with an insanely high-gloss finish so it shines like the black marble of the memorial, and let it serve as a memorial of its own. It might look something like this:

(You might need to click for a larger version to really get the idea.)

(In the end, I think I’m glad we didn’t use this idea—it’s powerful, but I worried it was too crass to use the real names of the troops who had died in Iraq, especially since a large percentage of their families would certainly not approve of the thesis of the book. On the the other hand, using anything other than the real names of those who had died seemed equally disrespectful.)

I found a lot of great imagery of protests of the Iraq war. (Protest obviously being a huge part of the memory of Vietnam as well, the connection seemed strong enough.) I remembered a couple protests in particular as being particularly intense, and Corbis led me to some imagery of those. There was one group that did a series of protests where they set up one pair of boots for every American soldier killed in Iraq to date in public places. It certainly gave me pause when they filled Union Square. (These photos are from Washington, DC.)

There was a similar event in DC that used full coffins instead of boots, which even more intense. I tried using photos from that:

So I sent that lot over to the publisher, and we did a little back and forth, but at the end of the day the only thing they were really sold on was the type (which I quite liked too, obviously). So I went back to the image search sites, and through a conflagration of previous search terms (“boots’ and “Vietnam”) managed to find an image of boots and guns marking the site of a battle in Vietnam. (In an unpleasant bit of syncronicity, according to the caption on the photo, this commemorates a battle (“Operation: Wheeler,” near Chu Lai) that apparently began on September 11, 1967) I overlayed some desert sand texture in a (somewhat clumsy) attempt to connect the two time periods and dropped the approved type treatment overtop, and I had an approved cover.

Eventually they changed the title of the book (I should know by now not to get too attached to title treatments on non-fiction), and wanted to add all the contributor names. I also smoothed out the sand texture and darkened it for readability, and that brought us to the final outcome:

1 comment:

RoseCovered Glasses said...

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

Politicians make no difference.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see: