November 23, 2011 4:00 AM EST

In December 1950, five months into the Korean War, Chinese forces drove American troops into retreat near the reservoir in Changjin. “It was 40 degrees below zero, and the wind was coming down out of Mongolia,” says war photographer David Douglas Duncan. “I was freezing.” As the threat of a Chinese onslaught loomed in the background, Duncan roamed the encampment with his camera. Sixty years later he can still remember approaching one soldier on the verge of freezing who stood clutching a can of food. “I asked him, ‘If I were God, what would you want for Christmas?’” Duncan says. “He just looked up into the sky and said, ‘Give me tomorrow.’”

Human rights advocates are up in arms about a proposed law in Iraq that could allow men to marry girls as young as nine and give husbands license to force their wives to have sex with them anytime. "It's a provocative act that's gotten a lot of attention, and blatantly violates Iraq's constitution I certainly haven't heard anyone defend it except the minister who introduced it," Erin Evers, an Iraq researcher based in Baghdad for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview. "But I never thought it would get as far as it did." Evers called the bill, which has stoked protests on March 8, International Women's Day, a major step back for women's rights and the country as a whole. The law, called The Jaafari Personal Status Law, still hasn't been approved by Iraq's parliament, and likely won't be until after April's elections, the Associated Press reports. Based on a school of Islamic law, it was introduced last year and unexpectedly approved last month by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The legal age for marriage in Iraq is currently 18. The proposed law does not explicitly set a new age limit for marriage, but it defines when girls become women at about age nine. Critics decry this provision as a backdoor to making child-marriage legal. The bill also states that a man can have sex with his wife regardless of her consent. It says a woman cannot leave the house without her husband's permission, and that only fathers can accept or refuse a marriage proposal on behalf of their daughter. It also lays out complicated rules for divorce, giving men more flexibility to to divorce their wives than women are afforded, the Associated Press reports. Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari's office has defended the proposed legislation, and has introduced a bill to go along with it that would route marital disputes into special religious courts, the Associated Press reports. According to the Associated Press, he said the new law would actually prevent abuse. "By introducing this draft law," he said, "we want to limit or prevent such practices."

Duncan, now 95, has seen plenty of tomorrows—something denied to many of the men he photographed. During World War II he covered the battles for Okinawa and Bougainville as a combat photographer with the Marine Corps. The strength of his work led to a staff position with LIFE Magazine in 1946. He went on to make some of the most indelible images from the Korean War, where he shot the two-week battle of Chosin, and Vietnam, where he documented the deadly clashes at Con Thien and Khe San. At the latter battle—as in so many others—his subjects questioned his sanity for choosing to snap amid the bombs and bullets. “The sergeant said, ‘Get your ass down,’” Duncan remembers. “I said, ‘Don’t you understand? I’m trying to immortalize you!”

Duncan credits LIFE magazine, which was launched 75 years ago today, with giving him an unparalleled platform for doing what he loved. “LIFE was it. There was nothing else. There was no television,” he says. “You walked in somewhere and you were a king.” Three days after joining the magazine’s staff he found himself in Persia, where Russian tanks were poised to invade Tehran. By November he landed his first LIFE cover on Palestine. He subsequently witnessed the British leaving India, became the first Westerner to photograph the treasures inside the Kremlin and captured the Egyptian revolution that brought down King Farouk.

He sustained some battle scars along the way. On Okinawa a piece of shrapnel flew into his left wrist. He taped it up and got back to work. And in Vietnam exploding mortar blew out his left eardrum. None of it was ever enough to put him off the profession: “I could walk out any time I wanted to. These guys couldn’t.”

Capturing the troops’ terror—and their will to live—remains a hallmark of his work. One of his most haunting images comes from September 1950. Two U.S. marines are seen running through a ditch past an enemy corpse near the Naktong River in South Korea. “The North Koreans were firing machine guns at them from a couple of hundred meters behind me,” Duncan says. They both died shortly after the photograph was taken.

Despite dodging the very bullets that took the lives of those marines, Duncan maintains that there’s nothing special about his efforts to get that photo—or the many that came before. “I’m not proud of any of it. I just did my job and showed who the guys were and how they lived their life,” he says. “But I am very pleased I showed people what the world was like during my time.”

Emergency vehicles and law enforcement personnel respond to a shooting at an entrance to the Washington Navy Yard, Sept. 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images

William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook.

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