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Reliving the Iraq War in Words and Pictures, 10 Years Later

10/17/13

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 17, 2013

A powerful multimedia exhibit the New York Times called “a window into the nature of war” makes its Boston-area debut at the Law School Library later this month.

“Invasion: Diaries and Memories of War in Iraq,” which is on display Oct. 28 through the month of November, is built around the compelling war diaries of 2009 Law School graduate Marine Lt. Timothy McLaughlin, who took part in the invasion of Iraq. 

McLaughlin and his collaborators will be on campus for a panel discussion and reception at the exhibit’s public opening event on Nov. 5, at 6:30 p.m. in the Law School East Wing 120. 

In addition to McLaughlin’s diaries, the exhibit comprises texts by Peter Maass and photographs by Gary Knight, who conceived of and designed the exhibit, presenting three different experiences of the invasion of Iraq from within the same unit. Knight, an award-winning photographer for Newsweek and other publications, and Maass — whose works have been published in The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, among others — reported on the battles fought by McLaughlin’s battalion as it approached Baghdad.

The trio, who met shortly after the invasion began in March 2003, collaborated on and raised funds for the exhibit, which premiered at The Bronx Documentary Center in New York City in March – timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. In announcing “Invasion,” they said: “We hope this exhibit brings people back to the invasion and shows them, directly and without the usual filters of the government or the press, what the invasion truly consisted of. After 10 years, we feel it is time for a thoughtful examination of the war before it is forgotten or romanticized."

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BC Law grad Timothy McLaughlin’s journals of his experiences in the Iraq War are the basis for an upcoming exhibit at the Law Library

Heralded for its human view of life on the frontline, the exhibit breaks new ground in documentary storytelling, and displays an innovative grid of 36 pages from McLaughlin’s diaries, each page enlarged to poster-size, along with Knight’s haunting images and Maass’ evocative stories.

The grid includes pages with pictures, maps and poems, and operates as a both a text and an artwork about war. The impact of McLaughlin’s handwritten account is both personal and emotional; his diaries contain blunt descriptions of combat.

Prior to the exhibit’s March 2013 premiere, said McLaughlin last week, “I was exceedingly anxious about how the public and media would interpret our project because its subject matter deals with very personal experiences that depict what war is actually like for those who are involved — which is far different from the standard narrative that is usually presented on television, by politicians, in movies.

 “Ultimately, the response we have received has been overwhelmingly positive, in large part, because Gary, Peter and I worked tirelessly, not to present our point of view to be agreed or disagreed with, but rather to present our experiences to be learned from and understood,” McLaughlin said.

 Professor of Law Filippa Anzalone, associate dean for library and technology services said, “The exhibit is a three-part, nuanced view of the United States invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago. The Boston College Law School community is proud of alum and former Marine Tim McLaughlin, whose startlingly honest diaries are the War Diaries exhibit’s centerpiece.

 “Peter Maass’ prose and Gary Knight’s photographs fill in the details of the events described from different viewpoints. ‘Invasion’ is a kind of Rashomon-like look back to a very disturbing period in our history.”

McLaughlin, who was at the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorist attack, commanded a tip-of-the-spear tank during the invasion of Iraq, and his American flag was memorably draped on a statue of Saddam Hussein at Firdos Square when Marines entered Baghdad. He writes of the chaos when his flag was placed on the statue in front of a global television audience. That storied flag will be on display on select days during the exhibit.

Now an associate at the Boston law firm Holland & Knight — which is sponsoring the BC exhibit and an opening event — McLaughlin is president of Shelter Legal Services, a charitable organization that provides free legal advice to homeless and low-income veterans.

Of bringing the exhibit to BC, McLaughlin said: “Back in 2006, I did not know what to expect during my transition from the Marine Corps to Boston College Law School, and it was stressful. What I found, however, was an institution — just like my other [undergraduate] alma mater, Holy Cross — that values service to the community in whatever form it takes, and our project is in many ways a continuation of that ethos.”

“Invasion” has received national and international acclaim and there have been expressions of interest for its display in locations as varied as Virginia, Texas and overseas. A free War Diaries app for the iPad is an extension of the exhibition. See www.wardiaries.org for more information.

Video produced by Sean Casey, Office of News & Public Affairs, University Advancement