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December 2, 2009

The Surge: If America is Really Looking At Resuscitating the Afghans….


The reason this photo touches a nerve right now is because it hits, in the most graphic way, at America’s frenzied resuscitation effort in propping up Afghanistan, its political system and especially, its military. The photo — taken last month by Getty photographer Chris Hondros showing an American medic giving CPR in a helicopter to a grievously wounded Afghan soldier — speaks to the true odds the poorly-trained, undermanned and quota-challenged Afghan military might actually deliver according to our terms and new timelines.

The other thing the photo does is offer a challenge to the U.S. corporate media. The question it poses is: with Obama putting a new stamp on the campaign, to what extent does traditional media have it in them to visualize what’s really happening in some kind of coherent context — as compared, say, to these artful and playful photos published by the NYT — one on Monday and the other on Tuesday — illustrating their lead stories about the surge.

For a slideshow of Chris’s series, see: US Army Medivac Evacuate War Wounded In Afghanistan (via

(photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images: November 1, 2009, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan)

  • DennisQ

    It’s an American Pieta. The hands of the soldier make a cross which is literally being pressed into the young Muslim.
    The war in Afghanistan is in many ways a war of Christians against Islam. That aspect is downplayed among Westerners, but great numbers of ordinary Afghans are supporting the Taliban and its extreme interpretation of Mohammed’s teaching. Maybe we should be less judgemental about non-Western values.
    Matthew 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye?

    • Ben Taggart

      Gosh, you are a real intellectual. But completely wrong. MOST Afghans do not support the Taliban and were all too happy to see them leave when the US and coalition forces pushed them out in 2002. All that they really want is to be left alone. In fact, most Taliban fighters don’t believe in the radical version of Islam either. They are just going with the team that they believe will deliver them a win. Unfortunately for all Afghans, radical islamists, who have hijacked the Muslim religion, used Afghanistan as a base to attack the west and the west responded by denying them that base. This is not a Christian crusade against the Muslims. It’s not even a war on terror. It is a war aimed at preventing a radical organization from using a country such as Afghanistan to launch attacks against the west. If you believe this is a crusade than you don’t know what a crusade is and you are falling for the crap that Al Qaeda and other radical groups are trying to sell to the rest of the moderate muslim world. The picture is powerful and a well rendered representation of the efforts of the coalition forces to breath life into the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

  • Gasho

    The image is ugly, messy, hopeless, tragic, bloody, dirty, frantic, sad, shocking and honest. It shows an American trying to save someone as opposed to killing them, but I still hate the image because it is so gruesome. Is it important that this kid is there? Is this our problem or have we inserted ourselves into hell because of the neo-cons ill-fated black flag operation in 2001? All of this sucks.

  • lytom

    Is it worth it? Well Obama thinks it is!

  • yg

    Obama told an audience that included West Point cadets that U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan will not turn into another Vietnam.

  • jonst

    Bag wrote: “… what extent does traditional media have it in them to visualize what’s really happening in some kind of coherent context”?”
    I write this gently, respectfully, and regretfully: do you even have to ask that question at this point in the drama/farce?

  • g

    Although this is a beautifully framed and striking image, it is horrendous. Not just for the terrible carnage shown, but for the fact that we’d seldom if ever publish a photo of an American solider in the extreme condition of dying, close-up, with his terrible mortal wounds and naked vulnerability visible to all the world. Why is it acceptable to show it if it’s a third-world person? Why can’t he and his family be granted the privacy in death and agony we’d grant an American or European?

  • from the comfort of my home computer

    An interesting shot, on many levels. However, there is something going on, technically, in this photo that sparked a question in my mind about the photographer’s ‘modus operandi.’ I looked at the EXIF data and saw that he cranked his f-stop all the way to f/16 in order to get the slowest hand-holdable shutter speed (1/25th of a second), apparently to emphasize the medic’s futile attempts to revive the soldier. While the slow shutter speed definitely creates a powerful, explosive dynamism to the photo, there’s just something that doesn’t feel right. There’s no “rule” being broken. But to me it just seems a tad…I don’t know, I’m sure there’s some word in French that would express what I’m trying to say perfectly, but I just want to say it seems a bit “gamely” to ratchet the f-stop down so far. It’s a matter of a taste. It borders on “making a spectacle” of some anonymous death. The first thing I thought when I saw this image was “World Press Photo of the Year.” It’s got all elements of a prize-winning image, the close-range composition, the frenetic drama, a literal heart-pounding immediacy. It of course reminds me of two other WPPOYs, Hocine Zaourar and David Turnley’s images from 1997 and 1991, respectively. But unlike those other two images, there’s some emotion missing here. Those other two pictures have that small something that tugs at me, whereas looking at this picture I kind of feel a repulsion, a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

  • tinwoman

    No legs at all, no fingers–hands probably due to be amputated–all this, and a citizen in one of the most ruthlessly underdeveloped countries on the earth…..
    I’m sorry, I’m really, really sorry…but I hope he died :(

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