If you are on the list of people to be killed or captured, Special Operations soldiers will descend on your house in the middle of the night, shooting anyone who resists or holds a weapon or shouts. These night raids inevitably kill the wrong people, slaughter civilians in their own homes and terrorize entire communities. These raids are winning the political war in Afghanistan for the Taliban, and are destroying the work of reconstruction and stabilization workers.
As a subject for painting there are few images available. I found a photo of a soldier seen through the eerie light of this night vision technology. Initially, the image seemed incredibly banal and did not seem to add any depth to the problem of night raids. Then it occurred to me that this night vision is actually very poor or inadequate vision. I asked why this vision would be relied on when lives were in the balance. One answer to that question is ‘arrogance’.
The kind of arrogance that says, “We are entitled to occupy your country, to enrich your corrupt elites and to terrorize your poor, and to take your resources.”
The work began with the soldier and searched to find the center of the drawing:
The darkened corners of the night vision scope indicated the partial or tunnel vision of this kind of seeing.
In night vision, light and shadow do not conform to worldly expectations. By adding horizontal lines the soldier became grounded. Because the image was one in which dark was light and light was dark, I added a darkened silver and drew a horizon/sky of buildings behind the soldier.
The surreal silver sky and whitish buildings create a sense of unreality. The monocle-like goggle reflection is striking and appears to be the center of the picture now. The reflection in the goggles also is a reminder of cyclops in the tales of Odysseus by Homer. These monsters prey by night too, like the cannibals in the story of The Time Machine.
Returning to the theme of poor or inadequate vision, I believed that the picture needed more difficulty of access to the forms and lines which still appeared to be clear to the viewer. To create that difficulty I added a Prussian blue wash:
The circular lens distorts the top left building rooftop, crunching it toward the center. The creepy light flattens the perspective and leaves only the size of the soldier to indicate he’s closer to us than the distant building.
Bad vision. How many soldiers have been injured in these raids because they could not distinguish friend from foe? We know from the Afghan war logs that two helicopters collided in one of these kill or capture missions. We also know that thousands of Afghanistan’s civilians have been killed in these raids. Based upon bad information groups of police have been killed, families bombed, and local leaders shot to death. In one notorious incident two women were shot and to cover up their error, bullets were dug from their bodies with knives.
There will be no winning a war in Afghanistan. No matter how much violence is committed there, there will not be a possession of Afghanistan. No matter how much blood is spilled, there will never be any ‘honor’ created for fighters in this war. Nothing to be proudly arrogant about and a source for shame for Americans.
My resources for understanding these raids come from two articles: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-cables-afghanistan-night-raids
Here’s a final version of the picture: