by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The infamous afghan flowchart from hell. this is going to be one of those images of an era. this incredibly impossible chart (claimed to be from a powerpoint, but was actually prepared on another system) is one of those great sneaky pieces of propaganda and will likely be the single thin that will end the war in that country (or at least our involvement).
every war we’ve engaged in during the modern media era seems to have a point where the war effort “jumps the shark”. this is a cultural phrase that refers to that moment when a cultural event intentionally destroys it’s own “suspension of disbelief”. it comes from the fake 50′s TV sitcom “happy days” and refers specifically to “the” episode when the show destroyed any credibility it still half-heartedly maintained, the moment when it became all one big self-referring absurd joke. it was an episode where Fonzie uses his motorcycle to do an ‘evel knievel’ type jump over a shark tank. most fans pin-point that as the moment when the show ‘lost it’. and this chart is the “jump the shark” moment for our involvement the war in afghanistan.
what i find obvious here, and is barely mentioned in the news accounts, is that this chart was a parody of information. it seems that it was actually designed to express the complex impossibility of the situation INTENTIONALLY. it was DESIGNED to be impossible to comprehend to drive home the point of how politically complex the situation in that country actually is. if you look closely, the chart is mind-numbingly confusing completely unnecessarily, thereby driving home the problem as SATIRE. it’s a brilliant subtle BAD design. a simple flow chart would have done exactly the opposite. it’s often said that you can’t “prove the negative.” well, this proves just that.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this was intentionally released to public to create an ‘out’ for the military. the pentagon finds itself in an unwinnable war, undefined and hopelessly provincial. there is no exit strategy at all, even after years of trying to find one. the only way out is to convince the public that it’s a ridiculously impossible situation and therefore we all need to throw our hands up and walk away with disgust and pride. i think this chart proves that case (and artificially), thus concocting our exit strategy.
There was similar moment in the history of the vietnam war. it was well documented on the pbs episode this week about the my lai massacre. when that photo of the dead villagers (“women and children”) was finally released to the public (years after the event), it effectively ended our involvement in the war. it still took a little time before the politicians found a “noble” way out for themselves, but for the rest of the country, that was IT. after that picture emerged, we ALL wanted out of that place.
Of course, we had a closely similar moment with our invasion of iraq. the torture photos did exactly the same thing for the iraq war of bravado. it was the ultimate anti-macho moment. after that we all wanted out.
so, we need to thank the creator of this little piece of propaganda, this classic of spin, this incredible slap in he face of reality. who was he? the guy is a genius and he may have changed history. this will be one for the “design history” books. i hope the academics are paying attention.