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November 27, 2012

U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Made Token and Awkward Turkey Day Appearance

Kabul Thanksgiving 1

Kabul Thanksgiving 3

Kabul Thanksgiving 2

If you saw the photos and video of U.S. troops having a Thanksgiving meal in Kabul that circulated a few days ago, they seemed to have a sad, orphan vibe to to them. (In particular, listen to Spc. Derek Biallas of San Lorenzo, Ca., defensively insisting in the AP clip how the troops are loved by the nationals, and they do want us there.)

With the war otherwise invisible, the fact these photos surfaced at all served as much as an awkward reminder of their scarcity. And then, the presence of the cameras seem so random and out of context, I wonder if the soldiers even knew there would be photographers present. Finally, on the heels of an election that focused so heavily on leadership, followed shortly by the Petraeus scandal which also tarnished top military brass, what’s also notable about the imagery is how anonymous the soldiers seem and how token their visibility. Certainly there is no Michelle Obama nor Dr. Jill Biden to foster connection or appreciation, nor can we tell who the commanding officers are or whether they are present. Many of the media stories, in fact (1, 2), hardly mention the name of the base, or bother to identify the divisions or units the soldiers belong to. Maybe it’s because security has become that bad the info is hush-hush, but it contributes to a depressing lack of ownership.

Buzzfeed, by the way, is one of the few sites that bothered to put together a cross-section of photos to see in one place.

(photo 1 & 3: Shah Marai/AFP/AFP/Getty Images. caption: US soldiers wait in line for their Thanksgiving Day meal on the premises of the Kabul International Airport on November 22, 2012. photo 2: A.P.)

  • BooksAlive

    Union and Confederate soldiers at Fredricksburg 150 years ago would have loved meals like these. Only some officers enjoyed an actual feast.

  • bks3bks

    Wait, we’re still in Afghanistan?


  • LanceThruster

    As an American, you want so much for the troops to let them know that they’re valued and appreciated. You feel for the remoteness of the experience and how the mundane is interspersed with the parts of the combat tour that are far more harrowing and deadly.
    I want them all home. I do not want to put them in harm’s way so casually, which seems all too far often the case.

  • Ursula L

    The whiteness of these pictures is quite remarkable.

    The soldiers are eating in a room with a white ceiling, white walls, white lights in the ceiling. The tables are white. They are eating from white, disposable plates. Drinking from white, disposable cups. Using white, disposable flatware.

    While their clothing is not white, it is camouflage. It does little to bring any sense of color or cheerfulness to the scene. Decidedly, and deliberately, drab.

    The various flag-themed decorations are awkward add-ons. Not part of a plan in decorating the room to be a pleasant space to live in and eat in. But tacked on the wall and hung from the ceiling as a pseudo-patriotic afterthought.

    The one, slight, exception to this drabness is the right side of the last picture, where a platter where meat is being carved to be served, and is decorated with brightly colored sweet peppers.

    This isn’t a planned or official thing. Someone involved in preparing the food chose to take some brightly colored food, and use it to make things a bit more colorful and cheerful. It is organic, unlike the utilitarian and depressingly white room, the commercial and superficial patriotic decorations, and the disposable and utilitarian furniture and tableware.

    The design of the room is official, and controlled by those with official authority. And it is awful. That one platter of meat is something that someone who is quite ordinary, someone who merely has the job of preparing food, chose to do just because it is a nice thing to do. Someone working in the kitchen, with no official authority, thought that food should be attractive as well as practical, and chose colorful peppers just to make things look a bit less awful.


    Does it have to be this awful?

    Is it really more efficient to constantly bring in new disposable dishes rather than washing some sturdy but nice ceramic ones? Is painting walls plain white or off-white a virtue, compared to having a variety of colors, even randomly chosen? Is there that much more efficiency in serving cafeteria style, versus having people sit at tables, and then having a few people from each table pick up food for each table in family-style serving dishes, so that the meal is shared in a natural way?

    These pictures tell me that the military establishment isn’t even trying to maintain the pleasure that ordinary activities of life can have for ordinary people. This isn’t a place for dining, for enjoying and sharing food with other people. It is a place where weapons are reloaded and refueled before being sent back into battle. A place designed to ignore the humanity of the humans who happen to have the job title of “soldier.”

  • Cactus

    If I recall correctly, aren’t all these services, facilities, utensils and
    food provided, under contract, by private companies such as Xe (nee
    Blackwater)? The most important thing in this picture has not been
    photographed: profit!

    It never ceases to amaze how the teapublicans rant and rave about ‘nothing
    is too good for our troops,’ except for advance planning for Thanksgiving dinners
    with real turkey and trimmings. Oh, and after-care for missing legs and PTSD,
    etc., etc.

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