Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 19, 2015

USA(ID)! USA(ID)!: Full Salute to a Military Photo

The American government’s response to the Ebola crisis has been not just good; it’s been nothing short of spectacular. It happened fast. And it changed reality for the better not on one but on two fronts—both domestically and in the three affected West African nations.

— from “Inside The Fight To End Ebola” (DailyBeast)

My Twitter friend and sharp eye on all things political and gastronomic, Regina Schrambling (@gastropoda), called out this photo to me. If we’ve seen that transport shot innumerable times in the 2000s, this version is fundamentally different. That’s because the troops aren’t returning home stymied from fighting a dictator or a sectarian movement or propping up a straw man in the Middle East or Asia. They were returning home (first to quarantine) after having fought, and largely subdued a disease. (And for once, it’s not a euphemism.)

If progressives have been horrified by most of the past decade-and-a-half of militarization, Regina writes:

Could there have been a better photo to be disseminated yesterday than this one: Obama bringing the troops home alive, from a beneficent use of military force in the world, even as the chickenhawks and Netanyahu and yet another Bush beat the drums for more war?

The contrast with so many sad photos of the Reign of Error, particularly Todd Heisler’s of the coffins being loaded in as Americans untouched by sacrifice waited on the plane, is amazing. I was seriously moved by this photo. “All that hopey-changey” is really working out for the guys who have to put their lives on the line. And when in our lifetimes have we been made aware the military has been deployed to save lives?

Technically, one could point to Indonesia after the tsunami or Haiti after the quake. However, that was straight disaster relief, not the undoing of plague. Back to the photo, if there’s an additional gratification, it’s the international intervention from our own multi-racial and multi-ethnic force. What looks like a yawn up front seems winning, too.

(photo: Jose Ramirez/courtesy – U.S. Army. caption: Servicemembers deployed in support of Operation United Assistance prepare for takeoff at Roberts International Airport, located outside Monrovia, Liberia, prior to redeploying to the U.S. on Feb. 17, 2015. As the mission in Liberia comes to an end, servicemembers steadily redeploy back home.)

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