At first glance, this portrait of a female Marine drinking snake’s blood looks like a perverse hazing ritual. The angle of the photo places her in a submissive posture, while the close circle of muddied boots and visible cameras indicate that she is performing for an audience. An image of a snake spewing fluid down a woman’s throat is indeed provocative.
With all due respect to Dr. Freud, however, sometimes a snake is just a snake. In this case, the Marine was taking part in an optional component of “Cobra Gold,” a training exercise in which U.S. Marines learn jungle survival techniques from the Royal Thai Marines. Thai Chief Petty Officer First Class Veing Pimsorn explained that “drinking the blood of the King Cobra is a survival technique used to maintain hydration deep in the jungle.” Plenty of male Marines also bellied up to the snakeblood bar and photos of them employed similar aesthetic techniques.
In case you’re questioning the advisability of seeking out a King Cobra if you find yourself lost in the jungle, this multi-national training exercise is also aimed at “maintaining and improving military-to-military relationships among nations sharing common goals and security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region.” From that perspective, the photos display the primeval teambuilding efforts that continue to characterize the modern military. Soldiers gawk and laugh as blood is spewed across the faces of their compatriots, whose grit and determination serve as a testament to their toughness.
At the same time, however, the photos illustrate the strides the military has taken with respect to identity and diversity. In addition to being instructed by Asian-Pacific allies, the band of brothers now includes sisters on a seemingly equal footing. This photo depicts a female Marine calmly handling a King Cobra as at least one male counterpart grimaces on the sidelines.
Pictures like the last one in this sequence are long past due. Although the Pentagon recently decided to “officially” lift the military’s ban on women in combat, U.S. women have fought alongside men since the Civil War (these photos illustrate the lengths to which women have gone to be on the front lines). As the number of women participating in exercises like these increases, it will become more difficult to justify gender segregation in the military and other spheres. In the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, the serpent was consigned to its belly and women to the rule of men as a result of original sin. Looks like Eve is getting her revenge.
— by Karrin Anderson | @KVAnderson
(photo 1: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. caption 1: A U.S. marine drinks the blood of a cobra during a jungle survival exercise with the Thai Navy as part of the “Cobra Gold 2013” joint military exercise, at a military base in Chon Buri province February 20, 2013. About 13,000 soldiers from seven countries, Thailand, U.S., Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia are participating in the 11-day military exercise. photo 2 & 3: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images. caption 3: A US Marine (2nd R) holds a cobra by the tail during a jungle survival program as part of the annual combined military exercises, Cobra Gold 2013, at a navy base in Sattahip on February 20, 2013. Cobra Gold is a joint, multi-national military training exercise that focuses on maintaining and improving military-to-military relationships among nations sharing common goals and security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region, including the US, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.)
Karrin Anderson | @KVAnderson