A Digital Face Lift for the Human Terrain System

Almost as if they were determined to totally ruin all of my theses about the resources poured into military propaganda, the Human Terrain System has just launched another Web 1.0 site–except this one is better, because it has an image slider. Having reviewed all of the images, all I can say is that HTS apparently is fun and games for the whole family. The only elements missing from the assortment are: bubble blowing, bobbing for apples, wet t-shirt contests, and party hats.

One might take things too seriously and expect that people who boast about mapping human terrains would at least know how to effectively and meaningfully caption their photographs, especially as they are obviously intended to function as part of a recruitment sales pitch. One can only assume then that the absence of anything beyond the vague, the playful, and the “inside joke” kind of label, was a deliberate choice.

First, it is a way to cast away all those gloomy thoughts of dead and injured teammates. Indeed, do you notice what is now missing from the HTS website? Their “In Memoriam” section, which featured glowing obituaries to Michael Bhatia, Nicole Suveges, and Paula Loyd (only one such page survives in the Internet Archive). This is interesting, standing momentarily apart from the surrounding official culture where “honoring the fallen” is raised to an almost psychotic level of obsession. Why? Was it perhaps because the names of Steve Fondacaro and Montgomery McFate appeared beneath each one, have either written or approved of the statements, and the attempt is to remove any lingering traces of the two in the public façade of HTS? Or is it really an attempt to erase the negative?

Second, it is preemptive, self-mocking laughter. HTS wants to get in the first laugh at itself before we do–in light of stories about mission monkeys, muppet mobiles, and guitar-playing camp counselor types. HTS may or may not be conscious of the cultural template that is shaping their choice of images, but I would say that it is likely the M*A*S*H television series–except that the persons now missing are Frank Burns (Fondacaro) and Hot Lips Hoolihan (McFate).

Jokes aside, some private contractor is clearly bilking the Army in producing such an amateurish looking website. But that is not our concern. We knew, and can glimpse from the photos, that this is about making a fortune from life in the colonies, and making occupation look like paradise. For some of those people, life will never again be as good as they had it in HTS.