An infantryman speaks about those pictures

| April 25, 2012

StrikeFO sends us a link to an opinion piece in which John Rico, a veteran of Afghanistan preaches to the masses at Salon about “Why soldiers take pictures”. He does the best job I’ve seen anywhere. I hope the regulars at Salon take note;

Taking a silly photo to relieve the stress doesn’t strike me as the worst thing in the world, given the circumstances. The desire to document surreal experiences is a normal human motivation. Yes, in this particular context the details are rather gruesome, but this is a gruesome task we’ve handed them.

The real grotesqueness isn’t in infantry soldiers taking a few war trophies. No, it’s the idea that’s been sold to the American public that war can be sterile. It’s the idea that 18-year-olds who have been ordered to kill people will never play with the body parts afterward.

You should go read the whole thing and don’t forget to read the comments as Rico’s explanation, the first honest explanation I’ve read on the subject goes right over the pointy heads of Salon’s readers.

Yeah, there’s an insurmountable divide.

Category: Military issues

Comments (17)

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  1. CI says:

    I understand Rico’s point of view, and I appriciate that it made it into a national publication, but he doesn’t speak for ALL Infantrymen.

    Beyond one of my hooah’s taking photo’s of one of our M1114’s windshield deep in an IED crater, none of my guys, nor myself took photo’s of dead bodies. Shot by us or otherwise……..unless we were conducting SSE.

    I know that many other do/did, but it’s not accurate when he [or Salon] states ‘All troops keep “war porn” stashes’.

    there’s some of us who have seen quite enough, and don’t really care for photographic souvenirs.

  2. NHSparky says:

    The expression, “Handing out tickets at the Indy 500” kinda applies here. How the hell do you put someone through the kind of shit that they do and expect them to NOT change? We as a society have become too obsessesed with the easy solution, the quick fix, whatever it takes to make the problems of our lives go away with a minimum of fuss, time invested, or discomfort.

    Sorry, boys and girls, reality is a much different animal than that.

  3. AndyN says:

    I know it’s at least marginally off topic, but I haven’t seen it addressed and I figure this is as good a place to ask as any…

    If the isolated instances of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan taking pictures of dead enemies is evidence of a problem in military culture, isn’t the same true of the much more common practice of civilians in certain communities filming violent crime and sharing it online? I don’t read the LA Times, so I may well have missed it, but have they or anyone else in the legacy press ever run a condemnatory piece on events like the filming by bystanders of the St. Patrick’s Day assault in Baltimore? Or demanded explanations of people who claim to represent the communities involved as to why this behavior is not only tolerated but in some cases applauded?

  4. Redacted1775 says:

    Well written, it’s unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that those commenting either refuse to or simply can’t understand, then again how can they unless they’ve experienced it themselves. On the other hand, not everyone has a “war porn” stash. I fucking hate that Matthisism, BTW.

  5. Old Trooper says:

    @1: I don’t think he was painting all infantry with the bush. I took it as him referring to the example he was talking about.

  6. CI says:

    @OT – You may be right, it’s difficult to parse out whether he is referring to ‘war porn’ as any and all photo’s and such taken in theater, or just those of dead and mangled bodies, peices and parts, etc.

    If it’s the former, I’m on board with him…if it’s the latter, he’s using a mighty broad brsuh.

  7. DirtyMick says:

    I liked the fact that he legally changed his name to Johnny Rico. His book was alright too

  8. Dave Jenkinson says:

    Its a judgement call for the one’s taking pictures, they belong to that person.

    The pictures I think that the US Government should use in this world wide terrorist war are those of suicide bombers.

    I would think the volunteers might want to rethink for a moment. It also might cut into the ones giving up HOPE for a better tomorrow. Others might wonder about the need of the 77 virgins.

  9. JustPlainjasin says:

    I could probably write a dissertation. I just want to make a point that some seem to be missing, or ignoring. They took a picture of the dead body of a FUCKING SUICICIDE BOMBER! I put that in emphasis for a reason. I think just like Dave said the need to put more pics of these fucktards around. The suicide bomber is the kind of shitheel that will blow themselves up in a market killing women and kids, fly planes into buildings, blow up dance clubs, etc… Rather than focus on the real crime we are focusing on some guys that probably just survived some serious shit and were blowing off steam…albeit in a gruesome way…rather than the shitheel who just self self-servingly blew himself up for virgins in the afterlife.

    Oh and when the fuckers who dipshits who recruit suicide bombers they find mentally ill, young, or others to use as their bombers.

  10. JustPlainjasin says:

    Run out of volunteers…

  11. USMC Steve says:

    In reality, unless these photos clearly depicted a war crime being committed, they were never an issue. The muzzys hate us, and are going to continue to hate us, and to go apeshit over the least little provocation. When they riot in the streets or shoot at our people over stupid shit, you machine gun them. After a while the muzzys learn the value of fear. Expecting them to act rationally, when they have never been taught how that works, nor been able to do so, is just another version of insanity.

  12. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    I just read the article referenced above … waiting … waiting … YES … I can read!

    Why Soldiers Take Photos

    All troops keep “war porn” stashes. I did too. What’s crazy is the public’s belief in a sanitized conflict.

    By John Rico

    OUTSTANDING read, well written, with a strong intelligent argument.

  13. OldSoldier54 says:

    A couple of things:

    First, thanks for posting this, Jonn. I don’t know if you or one of your ninjas is the one snoopin’ and poopin’ over there, but whomever it is: Thanks, so I don’t have to.

    Second, Rico did mention neutral to “warm fuzzyish” pictures of piles of spent casings and smiling kids as part of a typical “war porn” stash, so they aren’t all body parts and pools of blood in the background while PFC Snuffy mugs for the camera and the homies.

    Yeah Jonn, there’s a MASSIVE divide, but I’m not yet convinced it’s insurmountable … merely … daunting … alas.

  14. Bah Bodenkurk says:


    That’s really all I had to say…

  15. JustPlainjasin says:

    Ready for a cap drop.

  16. Alex F. says:

    #7, I actually wasn’t impressed by his book (got it for Christmas a few years back)….the entire theme of the book was basically “I joined the military even though I didn’t have to, I’m tougher than all my non-military friends, and I’m a shitbag and proud of it because I’m smarter than all these uneducated grunts and don’t buy into all the military brainwashing”. Reminded me a bit of Jarhead (in that the author writes primarily about how badass he is and comes off as a colossal douche) except not nearly as interesting or well-written, despite the fact that Rico claimed (IIRC) to have a Master’s degree while Swofford enlisted straight out of high school.

    That said, I agree with a lot of what he writes in this article. Certainly not every soldier (or even every front-line soldier) keeps “war porn” as he calls it, but his main point that the media elites don’t understand the first thing about it or why some soldiers do it is spot on.

  17. Jeff says:

    As to the comments after the article, wow, just wow. Is there a difference between keeping a Japanese Marines weapon that killed some of your shipmates and taking pictures? My Uncle (God bless his memory) gave me a Jap 6.5 he took off off of a Japanese Marine at Tarawa. When I asked about it he fuzzed up and took another drink. It isn’t about trophies or porn, it’s making sense out of the senseless, and making sure you don’t forget the lost. When I was a cop I knew another officer (who was a real arsch) who took pictures of various victims; whether homicide, suicide, ….. That was a f*%$ed up individual. These kids and the kids we were are not. Just trying to deal with something I pray my kids won’t have to deal with. Between the PTS and this, they paint us as psychos every chance they get. It get’s really old, and only makes me want to fight against them harder.
    Semper Fi