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In July 2018, At War published a piece by Jonathan Bratten that traced the history of wartime graffiti over more than 150 years of conflict and described how it has come to define military culture with its own vocabulary, characters and aesthetics. “These drawings, scratchings and markings serve a far greater purpose than merely offering a glimpse into the past: They are a defiant and public proclamation of a human being’s existence,” Bratten noted.
I asked readers to send in their own photos from deployment and an explanation of why the graffiti they documented resonated with them. Here are some of my favorites.
Baghdad in 2004
Stephen Richey, U.S. Army, 1977-2010
I took this photo of an interior wall of a gate guard tower at “Victory Base” in Baghdad in 2004. The graffiti is a classic example of the grim and cynical sense of humor soldiers cultivate in order to maintain their sanity in war.
After the Fall of Kabul in 2001
Ron Capps, U.S. Army, 1983-2008
There was a huge field on the outskirts of Kabul where Army engineers had dragged and left the surviving armor from Taliban units after Kabul fell. My team was wandering around in that field one afternoon and came across this. The spelling’s not perfect, but the sentiment is clear.
Helmand in June 2010
Wesley Morgan, Politico reporter
I took this photo at a British military outpost called Airport Lounge in Helmand’s Sangin district in June 2010, when Sangin was one of the two or three most dangerous districts in the country for allied troops. The previous unit at the outpost had left this bit of art to commemorate its dead — the reconnaissance platoon of Third Battalion, the Rifles, or 3 Rifles Battle Group, as the unit was known. During its six-month tour, which ended a couple of months before my visit to Sangin, 3 Rifles had taken some of the worst casualties of any American or British battalion to serve in Afghanistan.
Joint Base Balad in 2009
Max Anderson, Army National Guard, 2005-2011
This is a unit mural for Delta Company, 1-161 Infantry, 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, painted by soldiers from the unit. I took this photograph in 2009 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The mural has the names of all members of the unit who were deployed at the time. Other soldiers and airmen on the base would stop by regularly to take pictures.
Baghdad in November 2004
Jereme Coker, U.S. Army, 2003-2006
This wall, which belonged to Uday Hussein, was tagged in Baghdad in 2004 to represent Third Platoon, as well as to convey a message to new arrivals: “We were here, we fought here.”
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Lauren Katzenberg is the editor of The New York Times At War channel.