We Were Only Following Orders
‘We were only following orders’ deserves an explanation. On first glance the viewer may be pulled in by the colors and perhaps see the iconic style of Piet Mondrian. The images were originally from my experiences as a soldier serving in Kuwait and those of Nazi soldiers during World War II. In order to avoid any misinterpretation of this project I must state clearly, I do not sympathize or condone the actions and atrocities committed by the Nazi government in World War II. This is not a comparison of Nazi ideals to those of our own uniformed services, it is a comparison of the human behind the uniforms we both wore.
The photo experiment before you, has an objective to convey a connection to humanity that perhaps you don’t wish to think about; a soldier is a human when isolated from the uniform. I feel a duty as veteran and as an artist to address the complexities of warfare, and those who take up arms for your rights. I wish to help you understand the horrors of warfare that you’ve perhaps read about, or perhaps are vaguely familiar about, while coming to terms with my own life’s complex road to this very moment.
If I could describe my spirit to you it would include the term ‘warrior’. In this rescript narrative of my soul lives the agony of fellow warriors from the first tribal faction upon faction conflict, to the modern soldier fighting for country, duty, or God. What do you think these fallen are telling me? This project is a means to help me make sense out of what seems to me at times a senseless world we live in.
Was my desire to protect my fellow soldiers, prevent harm from reaching my families’ front door, and preserve my nation’s prosperity any different to those who wore a Nazi uniform? I needed to understand the difference, if any, between a Nazi soldier who was not involved in the politics or planning of war, and what I did for nearly eight years in the United States Army. It seems that time, location, and uniforms are what separated us. We joined because we needed an out, not to kill people, save the serial killers and masochists who were amongst us, and they were. We were normal people stuck in an abnormal world of horrific violence. People like me began to be sickened at the sight of blood, or perhaps learned to power through those horrors. I’ve never met a person who said they enjoyed the horrors of war, nor should they.
Piet Mondrian’s style here is only a means to an end. This style was utilized to morph these images into something unrecognizable. It became a way for me to turn a Nazi salute or a mortar into lines and colors. Some had to be run through the program up to four times in order to remove the outlines of swastikas, or easily recognizable US modern vehicles. Only the title remains. I did this using my iPhone and an app called Prisma. The images are now like a husk of the photos they once were, not unlike the husk of a human I felt like after seeing the lethal means in which modern militaries can do to other humans.
Ideology is absent in these scenes, you will not find a reason to pick up arms against each other here. There are no war machines, no propaganda, no talking heads or demagogy. I’ve removed this all with an app on my phone and an idea. Uniforms, tanks, guns, and explosives all replaced by an algorithmic grid like image with a limited pallet of white, black, red, yellow, and the occasional blue. My objective was to take a photo of a Nazi, or of me next to a war machine and create something your own mother would hang on her wall.