What makes photojournalism so powerful? It could be this: even in its raw state, it is finished work. No amount of varnish can change the message. Could anything say more clearly than the picture on the next page that those soldiers are a long way from home? For this special section, our photo editors have reached for 2003's most arresting photojournalism. The pictures, many taken on assignment for TIME, include searing images of the Iraq war. All the emotions get played out for the camera during wartime, from the terrified child with his hands up, to the exuberant soldier swooshing down a palace banister in Tikrit. Other imponderables--feats of nature like Hurricane Isabel, feats of sport like Lance Armstrong's fifth win--are wrestled to the page too. In one photo, Texans look warily at a globe-shaped piece of debris that fell from the Columbia. All anyone could do was stare and puzzle and grieve. In 2003 the battered world crashed again and again into our lives, and the rest of us were not unlike those Texans. The pictures invite you to stare and puzzle and think once again about the year that is about to become history.