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February 18, 2012

Last Word on the Afghan War: That’s Entertainment?

Looking again at another winner in this year’s World Press Photo Contest, it’s hard to deny that David Goldman’s photograph merits inclusion among so much evocative imagery: in the only image from the war in Afghanistan to be included among the winners, Afghan landscape meets global war on terror meets…John Bonham?

Taken during the withdrawal of Canadian combat forces from Afghanistan, this photograph conceivably marks a moment after the guns have been packed away, after the smoke has cleared, when there is now time to therapeutically refashion the protective blast shelter into an acoustic reverb chamber. And yet, even though tired coalition forces slowly shift attention away from Iraq and Afghanistan, beating of the war drum continues.

And while World Press understandably selects this photograph as a winner, why does it win first prize in the “Arts and Entertainment” category? Drum kit notwithstanding, clearly it’s the imagery of war––not entertainment––that dominates this photograph. The visible presence of musical instrumentation erases neither the soldier, his military issue brown t-shirt, his iconic buzzed haircut, nor the potential for explosive violence that warrants digging massive trenches in the first place.

Confusion as to whether we’re looking at an image of war or at an image of Art and Entertainment is telling. As Robert Stahl points out in Militainment, Inc., these categories have been increasingly blurred and grafted onto each other to the point where it has become difficult to separate the two. My guess, though, is that the soldier himself, in what may be a rare moment of artistic catharsis, appreciates the difference all too well.

–Phil Perdue

(photo: David Goldman. caption: 24 June 2011. Canadian Forces soldier Cpl. Ben Vandandaigue plays the drums on Forward Operating Base Sperwan Ghar, overlooking the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan.)

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