No matter how they start, or why, wars are human — the people who fight them, the people caught in their destruction, the people who cover them, all pay a price for a cause. Since the Civil War — the first American conflict photographed — photojournalists have never let us forget that. They have shown us the men and women offering their last full measure for their countries. Sacrifice, heroism, horror, blood, strength, courage, fear, death, hope and faith all mingle inside the stories of war. And it is photography that has brought us these stories with all their emotional depths, fighting the numbing banality of the endless daily numbers: 12 soldiers killed, two car bombs, six-year occupation, 17 taken hostage, eight amputees. For when we see a dead soldier dragged down a dirt road, we feel the outrage. When we witness the palpable fear in a nurse's eyes, we know for an instant about life under a dictator in a foreign land.
For this Veterans Day tribute, we have selected five American photographers who have risked their lives and pushed their cameras across barriers all over the world so that others can witness the unimaginable. Some of them have been shot or kidnapped. Worldwide, dozens have died. Through photojournalists, we have spent time with soldiers trying to figure out who the enemy is, lived among Chechen rebels, fought gunfire with rocks in Gaza streets, truly glimpsed "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia. In that sense, we have all gone to war. Here are their stories:
El Salvador. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Somalia. Bosnia. For almost four decades, Nachtwey has sought the raw, human moments hidden during desperate times in these and other places. His pictures demand your attention, daring you to forget what you have just seen and felt.