Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
April 20, 2006

Your Turn: Camelflage


(click for bigger humps)

Have you noticed, you don’t hear the Administration using the monumental “War On Terrorism” phrase too much anymore?

It’s just one simple article, but this plaintive story about a group of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan seems to reveal the true futility of whatever it was Bush/Rumsfeld originally had in mind. 

I leave the accompanying portrait in your good hands.

(image: Pam Constable/The Washington Post.  Jauro, Afghanistan.  April 19, 2006.

  • Rafar

    At first glance, I am struck by how much the soldier looks like a cutout pasted onto a photo of a camel in the wilderness. Perhaps it is the effect of the camoflague uniform, but it leaves the impression that the soldier just doesn’t belong there.

  • lytom

    Won’t they ever learn? And what do they expect? Afghans have been living there forever and know these are just visitors, they may never see again… Special Forces represent the mighty, but with patience, elders know that will crumble in the face of the hard reality in Afghanistan…afterall that is how Russians ended.
    Comment on the picture:
    Feeling like a tourist…taking a picture with a camel…soldier looks out of place. Is the US army now employing camels?
    Hesitation of the camel to follow, to make that step to be on the side of the soldier. Symbolic, rushing ahead, while the sense would have it to be cautious…

  • Asta

    For a moment there, I thought it was another Bill Frist gone huntin’ and killin’ photo.

  • readytoblowagasket

    I want to know the line item cost for camels in the DoD’s budget.

  • ummabdulla

    RTBAG: “I want to know the line item cost for camels in the DoD’s budget.”
    Well, since it’s the DOD, it’s probably about 100 times the actual cost. ;)

  • Stuart

    They do not match, color on down: basically, the soldier looks like he has a few extra layers on while everything about the camel bespeaks a pared-down essentiality–its physique, its attitude, its intimacy with its environment. And he looks a little pigeontoed too, which suggests he ain’t exactly camel-riding material.

  • Stuart

    (The soldier looks pigeontoed, I should’ve specified.)

  • jt from BC

    Afghanistan, passing the torch from one empire to another via a camel, dung , a C in C & sidekick
    “The Arabs are a backwards people who eat nothing but Camel dung” Winston Churchill.
    “When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.” George W Bush
    “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish *to have at a later time*” ah yes Donald, new humvees & local MRE’s.
    The soldier get to keep the picture-”an adventure of a lifetime” (for a pipeline)

  • Asta

    Churchill really said that? Geesh.

  • readytoblowagasket

    ummabdulla: My point exactly. Although “100 times” is probably underestimating it. :)
    jt from BC: Thanks for the Churchill quote. I see we’ve stood squarely and stubbornly in place since then.
    This photo reminds me of the photo of Judy Miller in Iraq in her desert capris and baseball cap. Totally ridiculous, in other words.

  • Cactus

    This country reminds me of parts of the Ozarks, with a little less water. The rest of the country tried to pull those “hillbillies” into the 21st century and they fought back. They thumped their bible and continued to do things their way. The people in Afghanistan are nomadic and they know their land. (Yeah, I read “Caravan” about a half a century ago.) Only tough, obstinate people could live in that land. Do we really think we can change them? What hutzpah! IMHO Afghani’s know in their bones how to evade marauders, how to make the land work for them and how to deal with invaders. They’re going to do what they’re going to do in their own time and their own ways. Giving candy to children isn’t going to change that. Taliban, al-Queda, US army – all the same, all intruders to their lives. All will eventually leave and they will hope to have their land back.
    The photo looks like a great snapshot at first. But the more you look at it, the more out of place the soldier looks. He’s slightly off-balance, uncomfortable. This is rugged country. The ground is hard, dry and slanting. The trees are rough and gnarled, the bare limbs reaching out of frame in both directions, as if shrugging its shoulders; ‘don’t look at me, it’s all the same.’ The ground is so hard the tree roots have a hard time burrowing into it. Even the camel seems gnarled with the humps and knobbly knees.

  • black dog barking

    According to Wikipedia, Winston Churchill’s first non-fiction book, Malakand Field Force, details the young lieutenant’s experience fighting local groups including the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier of India, now parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    In 1897.

  • ahpook

    This photo looks like a non-winning entry in a photoshop tennis contest. The way the soldier’s arm disappears and the relative scale of the two figures look completely off-kilter.
    Are you sure you’re not being taken for a ride? (With this picture, I mean — obviously we the people are being taken by the entire misadventure…)

  • itwasnt me

    I love this picture! I love the sweet camel (one hump or two?) I love the smiling GI!(Seems like he’s an actual person). It should be made into a life-size cardboard cutout and you can get your picture taken next to it. Anybody in Venice CA listening? I’m ignoring the sad story, heard too many today.

  • ummabdulla

    Blackdogbarking, I think that wikipedia entry is mistaken. Winston Churchill might have been fighting Pashtuns, but the Taliban (which just means “students”) have only been around since the 1990s.
    I don’t know what to say about this picture; everything looks out of place, like it’s a “What’s wrong with this picture?” riddle.
    These kinds of articles always seem to portray the young American soldiers as naturally superior, and the Afghan elders as children who need to be mastered. But as lytom said, these Afghans know that “superpowers” don’t last. Their history spans thousands of years, and the Quran explains for every nation, there is a specified term, and that when their time comes, they can’t prevent or delay it. I think these Afghans fully expect the American empire to crumble, and they would just laugh at the ignorance and arrogance of the “End of History” theories…

  • hauksdottir

    Instead of a pathless land, there appears to be too many paths, and the tree seems to be pointing in two directions, with a “how should I know?” expression to the limbs. The soldier is probably not asking for directions (unlike Alice questining the Cheshire Cat). With GPS and a targetting system, what does the real terrain matter?
    He is cold. Those are gloved hands. I’m not seeing snow in the background, but pine trees and stony ground indicate some elevation. They were not offered tea, despite the chill. Deliberate avoidance of hospitality is a bad sign.
    Maybe if the leader of this expedition wasn’t trying to do too many villages in a day and spent more time listening, the reception would be warmer! We invaded 5 years ago; surely he can spend an hour listening to the elders complain about health care? Then, once they have vented, he could offer some suggestions and gradually lead to his topic. Impatience isn’t going to get them anywhere.
    This soldier is getting a snapshot with the camel, but even so I’m a bit surprised at the informality. He is in uniform, but his shirt is not tucked in! Meeting with the various village elders is a diplomatic mission… even for the guards… would the men feel a bit more confident if they were tucked and straightened? (If this was a combat image, I wouldn’t care if his shirt was out or not. If he had ridden the camel, I could understand getting mussed. However, the guys rode up in a Humvee, hardly roughing it.)
    The angle of the image makes it appear that the camel is sniffing the soldier’s armpit (salt?) or checking out his pockets. The camel was put out to graze: if he takes a bite out of the uniform, the “camelflage” (a truly awful pun) must have worked.

  • jt from BC

    ummabdulla, you must have missed this ;
    Interview: Sarah Baxter meets Francis Fukuyama I was a neocon. I was wrong,,2092-2092153,00.html
    The originator of ‘The End Of History’ has come undone

Refresh Archives

Random Notes