The photograph below was in newspapers around the world yesterday, part of an AP article titled “Pace of Afghanistan withdrawal undecided” by Lolita C. Baldor and Pauline Jelinek.
In our local paper, the Sentinel-Record, the caption under the photograph reads “QUESTIONS: Food supplies for US Marines hanging off small parachutes are dropped from a plane Thursday outside Forward Operating Base Edi in the volatile Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.”
Here’s another photo I found online today:
The caption on this one reads “Food supplies for US Marines hanging off small parachutes are dropped from a plane as a sandstorm is approaching outside Forward Operating Base Edi in the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan, Saturday, June 4.” (From http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/06/04/6785292-marines-receive-air-drop-as-sandstorm-approaches or http://on.msnbc.com/mbf4XX or http://tinyurl.com/3bynukm.)
All of which brings me to this question… When you’re parachuting food to your troops on a regular basis, isn’t that tantamount to admitting your surface (land/sea) supply routes are cut off? Or is this standard operating procedure in this decade-long war? The Afghanistan photograph reminded me of these, from the Battle of the Bulge (1944/45):
It also reminded me of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” which begins with a mundane but instructive example:
He cited an article in the journal Nature, which informed its readers, in a strictly scientific fashion, about a group of fleeing, desperate men in Siberia who, starving, happened upon a subterranean ice lens that held a perfectly preserved prehistoric fauna. “Flouting the higher claims of ichthyology,” narrated Solzhenitsyn, and “elbowing each other to be first,” they chipped away the ice, hurried the fish to a fire, cooked it, and bolted it down. No doubt, said Solzhenitsyn, Nature impressed its readers with this account of how 10,000-year-old fish could be kept fresh over such a long period. But only a narrower group of readers could decipher the true meaning of this “incautious” report. That smaller club was the fellow gulag survivors — the “pitiable zeks,” as Solzhenitsyn called them.
From a 2008 obituary by Paul Kengor, http://foro.univision.com/t5/Noticias-y-Pol%C3%ADtica-en-Estados-Unidos/R-I-P-ALEXANDER-SOLZHENITSYN/m-p/274622834 or http://bit.ly/iODmrm or http://tinyurl.com/3gnob6r
So, is the innocuous photograph of a food drop in Afghanistan a similar case of instructive mundanity? Are things as desperate now at FOB Edi as they were in Bastogne 67 years ago? For more recent photos from the “volatile” Helmand Province:
Update — this is the large above-the-fold front page photo in today’s Washington Post (6/8/2011):