After War

The Weight of Life at Walter Reed

After War

Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography

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Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 17 illustrations Published: November 2015

Author: Zoë H. Wool

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Disability Studies, Medicine and Health

In After War Zoë H. Wool explores how the American soldiers most severely injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars struggle to build some kind of ordinary life while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from grievous injuries like lost limbs and traumatic brain injury. Between 2007 and 2008, Wool spent time with many of these mostly male soldiers and their families and loved ones in an effort to understand what it's like to be blown up and then pulled toward an ideal and ordinary civilian life in a place where the possibilities of such a life are called into question. Contextualizing these soldiers within a broader political and moral framework, Wool considers the soldier body as a historically, politically, and morally laden national icon of normative masculinity. She shows how injury, disability, and the reality of soldiers' experiences and lives unsettle this icon and disrupt the all-too-common narrative of the heroic wounded veteran as the embodiment of patriotic self-sacrifice. For these soldiers, the uncanny ordinariness of seemingly extraordinary everyday circumstances and practices at Walter Reed create a reality that will never be normal.


"For anyone looking for an intimate depiction of military trauma or scholars looking for a strong example of how the rising generation of anthropologists are writing about violence, After War is a must read." — Christopher Webb, Somatosphere

"After War demands that we reckon with the ways violence lives on in even the most civilian and intimate of spaces. ... After War focuses narrowly on veterans, but in asking how we make the world inhabitable after world-altering violence, it points to the limits of medicalized understandings of trauma. If only some ways of being 'count' as posttraumatic, we miss the ways in which posttraumatic movement is a sensible reaction to violence." — Emma Shaw Crane, Public Books

"...provocative and instructive. . . . Wool’s writing is relentless, and she has an evocative way of explicating contradiction such that vivid and unexpected intimacies snap into place. . . . In After War, Wool succeeds in significantly reworking notions of suffering as they are rendered in ethnographic accounts." — Lauren Cubellis, Savage Minds

"Zoë Wool’s After War offers an ethnographically rich, theoretically nuanced, and compulsively readable analysis of the experiences of injured soldiers at one of the nation’s most iconic medical centers.... After War is an important addition to current anthropological studies of the body, health, disability, mental illness, conflict, and trauma, and would be an excellent addition for courses at the graduate or undergraduate level. It will also be of interest to scholars of contemporary military history, American Studies, and Disability Studies." — Elizabeth Lewis, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"What sets this book apart are the detailed and interesting stories of wounded soldiers and their families attempting to return to the ordinary."  — R. I. Hooper, Choice

"After War is indispensable to the anthropological literature on the United States military and the country’s post-9/11 wars. . . . [A] compelling model for any scholar thinking about the politics and poetics of ethnographic representation of people whose bodies and identities are overdetermined in one way or another."
  — Anna Zogas, Medicine Anthropology Theory

"This is an ethnography enriched by the kind of experiential detail only available from immersion. Wool captures the serendipitous moments—the arguments and indiscretions, the rants, confusion, frustration, and ever-present boredom—that are lost with quicker methodologies.... After War is antiwar ethnography but a necessarily limited truth of war narrative that I highly recommend." — Steven Gardiner, American Anthropologist

"[U]nlike earlier ethnographic studies, which focus on the 'symbolic, social, and institutional politics' of war injury, After War offers a uniquely intimate look at soldiers' embodied experiences and ordinary lives (4). For this reason alone, the book is a must-read for any serious scholar of disabled vets. . . . After War is an important contribution to the growing literature on the embodied legacies of war injury." — John Matthew Kinder, Disability Studies Quarterly

"To sum up this wonderfully wrought and important book in a few short paragraphs is a thankless task, and if only one thing sticks, it should be this: go read it. . . . Not only does Zoë Wool provide us with a powerful and convincing duality of the extra/ordinary that is apt to stimulate our own work. Perhaps more important, she also brutally, but beautifully takes us to the (literal) bedsides of lives seemingly locked in various kinds of precariousness. Her ability to demonstrate and argue convincingly through the fleshiness of ethnography is truly inspirational."
  — Birgitte Refslund Sørensen and Matti Weisdorf, Conflict and Society

"Zoë Wool’s ethnography of severely injured American soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital is, in a word, amazing." — Pamela Moss, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"After reading Wool’s book, I am eager to return to Walter Reed with a new sense of understanding and a fresh set of eyes. This is an enormously powerful recommendation for a book – that someone who has ‘been there, done that’ sees the material through new eyes. The stories of these veterans are so compelling, and Wool has captured their voices very well." — Ann Sifuentes, Disability & Society

"Wool provides striking ethnographic moments and insights throughout the book.... After War is a good read for anyone interested in the anthropology of violence, war, gender, and military culture." — Emily Cohen Ibañez, Journal of Anthropological Research

"After War is a crucial contribution to a growing body of scholarship that considers how military subjectivities are formed within, for, and by the violence of US empire....The theoretical power of After War is due to Wool’s decision to allow contradictions and entanglements to drive the narrative." — Elizabeth Mesok, Feminist Formations

"This brilliant and absorbing ethnography reveals how the violence of war is rendered simultaneously enduring and ephemeral for wounded American soldiers. Zoë H. Wool accounts for the frankness of embodiment and the unstable yet ceaseless processes through which the ordinary work of living is accomplished in the aftermath of serious injury. After War is a work of tremendous clarity and depth opening new sightlines in disability and the critical politics of the human body."  — Julie Livingston, author of Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic

"Hollywood films and literary memoirs tend to transform wounded veterans into tragic heroes or cybernetic supercrips. Zoë H. Wool knows better. In her beautifully written and deeply empathic study of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed, Wool shows us the long slow burn of convalescence and how the ordinary textures of domestic life unfold in real time. An important and timely intervention." — David Serlin, author of Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America

"After War is a powerful and exquisitely written study of the convalescence of seriously injured veterans of our country's current wars.  It is the best such book I've encountered, sometimes painful, sometimes inspirational, always enlightening.  Zoë Wool's sharp eye and keen intelligence helps us to more wholly appreciate the terrible physical and emotional struggles of our wounded soldiers." — Tim O'Brien


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Zoë H. Wool is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Rice University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Abbreviations  vii

Preface  xiii

Acknowledgments  xvii

Introduction  1

1. The Extra/ordinary Atmosphere of Walter Reed  25

2. A Present History of Fragments  63

3. The Economy of Patriotism  97

4. On Movement  131

5. Intimate Attachments and the Securing of Life  157

Conclusion  189

Notes  195

References  217

Index  233
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Honorable Mention, 2016 Gregory Bateson Prize (presented by the Society for Cultural Anthropology)

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