Best Defense

The War Horse: Take the wild ride

America’s wars are still churning, both at home and abroad, yet much of the country is either indifferent or unaware.



By Thomas James Brennan
Best Defense Department of kickstarting

America’s wars are still churning, both at home and abroad, yet much of the country is either indifferent or unaware. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are officially over, but continue to grow increasingly messy and complex in the wake of our involvement. And the ripple effect reaches deep into our society to touch us all. Neighbors, fathers, childhood friends, clergy, coworkers, families, and communities all feel the ongoing costs of war. More needs to be done to investigate and document conflicts that have spanned most of this century. On January 18, I launched my Kickstarter campaign for The War Horse — a non-profit digital magazine and community that will investigate war and trauma since 9/11.

Our non-partisan storytelling will be driven by crowd-sourced contributions of pictures, videos, and written submissions. By raising at least of $50,000, our team of journalists will publish our first four long-form multimedia stories beginning in May. Our investigative journalism will focus on the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. In addition to investigations, The War Horse also will publish multimedia features and profiles of the U.S. service members and Iraqi and Afghan interpreters killed since 9/11.

My own transition from a sergeant in the Marine Corps to a civilian began when I was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. I began writing to understand my war. Our war. I wanted the realities of war to be heard from both veterans and civilians. I still do. Responsible and constructive conversations are more important than ever as ongoing conflicts in the Middle East spill across borders into Europe and North America.

Articles published by The War Horse should help narrow the divide between veterans and civilians. Journalists won’t be the only people writing stories. Our community will also consist of veterans and civilians who share their own experiences — pro-war and anti-war. Through open and honest reporting and writing, we will promote dialogue and bring about a greater understanding of the toll of conflict, and how to cope in the aftermath of war.

As a Marine infantryman who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve lived through war. Upon my return home, I witnessed the lack of accountability, navigated a broken military retirement system, and have been failed by the Department of Veterans Affairs too many times. I’ve confronted assumptions made by veterans and civilians alike since I was medically retired. I’ve lost count of how many of my friends can say the same. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.

War and trauma should become part of the conversation.

Thomas James Brennan is the founder of The War Horse. He is working on a book, “Shooting Ghosts,” about the psychological costs of war, to be published in 2017 by the Viking imprint of Penguin/Random House. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. He received a Purple Heart and is also the recipient of a 2013 Dart Center honorable mention and the 2014 American Legion Fourth Estate Award. He attended Columbia University as a Stabile Investigative Journalism Fellow. Follow The War Horse on Twitter and Facebook

Image credit: Lady Butler/Scotland Forever! (1881)/Leeds Art Gallery/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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