January 3, 2005

The Line Forms at the Chopper

In the past 48 hours, there have been numerous reports of “logistical problems” and “delays in the command structure” in supplying aid to Banda Aceh.  The stories suggest a pattern of subtle resistance by the Indonesian government and military to outside involvement.  Relief agencies have been complaining, and the U.S. military has also described problems with cooperation. Although some reports are more circumstantial about the problem (NYTimes; CSM), there have been other reports of Indonesian troops comandeering supplies or abandoning their units (and uniforms) to compete with civilians for relief goods from helicopter drops (Democracy Now).


In light of these reports, compare the lead image in Mondays’s NYTimes with it’s caption:  Indonesian soldiers and civilians accepted water from a U.S. Navy helicopter crew yesterday near the town of Meulaboh in Aceh Province.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I mostly see soldiers.

There was another picture I saw (from Newsweek’s website) that might give more insight into the local politics.  The accompanying text describes Indonesian President Susilo Bambang (left) as trying to comfort a woman from Bandqa Aceh who had lost her family in the disaster. 


Of course, this soldier likely “stands apart” from the scene for official reasons.  It’s also possible his expression is completely innocent.  Editors select particular pictures for a reason, however, and this one does suggest other interpretations.  For example, perhaps the officer (who, because he looks to be above field rank, is more symbolic of military authority) can’t help using his face and posture to register disgust over the president’s gesture. 

Also, notice how the soldiers arm almost perfectly bisects the handshake.  In the same way the soldier visually forms a barrier between the woman and the president (with his back toward the victim), the arrangement of the arms also suggest how much the military stands between the local population and the mainland, the Indian Indonesian government and the outside world. 

(image 1: Choo Youn-Kong/Agence France-Presse–Getty Images in NYTimes; image 2: SES Press–AP at Newsweek.com)

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Michael Shaw
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