|Shell-shocked U.S. Marine, Hue, 1968|
This image depicts the unspeakable, presents the indescribable. In this man's eyes all pain is held. They are each an ocean of death. He stares into nothing yet sees too much.
For us his portrait becomes a powerful stand in for brutalities which would be impossible to truly capture. Yet to see his reaction is perhaps more moving than seeing the reality.
A tragic non-portrait, this is an image of a man who is not really present. He is numb, trapped somewhere else in a place he may never escape from, his distant gaze unable to fully register what he has witnessed. Expressionless, saying all and nothing with his eyes alone, he holds on to his gun as if it were a crutch to rely on and a burden to be carried.
Through his eyes we see almost a glimpse of what he has seen. But we remain outside his gaze, unable to comprehend what he has seen, where he has been to.
For what this image speaks of more than anything else is that war cannot be imagined. That to experience it is to become the walking dead, to loss an innocence most of us take for granted, to gain a knowledge no person should ever have.
Don McCullin understands this deeply and has always aimed his camera with compassion and dignity. This image represents a mutual comprehension of war that the viewer is excluded from, for our own sake.