Total Pageviews

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Soldier in a Skeleton Scarf in Mali

A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask on Sunday in Niono, Mali.Issouf Sanogo/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask on Sunday in Niono, Mali.

A photograph of a soldier with French forces in Mali who was wearing a skeleton scarf over his face generated reaction this week because of its similarity to a killer character called Ghost in Call of Duty, the online warfare game.

In France, a military official said the image conveyed was unacceptable, and the military was working to determine the identity of the soldier.

“This is a way of behaving that is not acceptable,” said Col. Thierry Burkhard, the French military spokesman, according to Libération. “This image is not representative of the action that France is conducting in Mali at the request of the Malian state.”

Online bloggers, news Web sites and writers covered the aftermath, with some saying that computer games should not be held responsible for inspiring real-life killing and that military forces have often wore masks or balaclavas on battlefields, or painted fierce images on to warplanes.

Issouf Sanogo, the Agence France-Presse news agency photographer who took the picture on Sunday, said he was surprised at the attention it had generated. In remarks on an AFP blog post, he said the “French legionnaire” was standing near som! e armored vehicles in Niono, in central Mali, with the grinning skeleton scarf tied around his nose and mouth to protect himself from the dust kicked up by a helicopter.

Mr. Sanogo, who is based in Ivory Coast but was sent to Mali to cover the French intervention, was quoted as saying:

The troops are working in difficult conditions. They travel thousands of kilometers by road and do what they can to entertain themselves a little. I don’t know the identity of the soldier in the scarf and I’d have a hard time recognizing him even if I did see him again. I think â€" and I hope â€" that it’s impossible to tell who he is. I’m not even sure if he knows what people are saying about him.

On Twitter and news sites, the image generated discussion and comparisons to previous wars.

It was the second time this week that a correlation between violent video games, like Call of Duty, and war has been highlighted. As my colleague Robert Mackey reported, a Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday that Prince Harry must have “mental problems,” after the broadcast of remarks by the royal in which he said that killing militants from an Apache helicopter was similar to playing video games.

Martin Williams, a senior reporter for The Herald, the Scottish newspaper, wrote:

Kotaku, the Web site that reports about video game news, has written extensively abut the gaming world intersecting with real conflicts, like in recent years when GameStop pulled videos from stores on United States military bases because of their portrayal of fighting with the Taliban.

As Kotaku reported, United States soldiers have been wearing similar skeleton face coverings in previous and current wars, linking to a New York Post story that had a photograph of a soldier in a skeleton mask in Afghanistan and to other photographs of soldiers wearing similar face coverings.

The Kotaku article said: “For one, you’ve got to feel for this particular guy, since skull masks (or balaclavas, which is actually what Ghost is wearing) are incredibly common in armed forces across the world, especially th! e U.S. Am! erican soldiers have been wearing them, and have been having their pictures taken in them, for years. This isn’t one guy acting alone, It’s an established ‘fashion’ among soldiers worldwide.”

Readers commented on the Agence France-Presse blog post that the negative reaction was hype, with one noting how the United States painted a shark face on its P-40 warplane during World War II. Another reader posted:

American soldiers have been wearing this kind of stuff since the first Iraq war. Long before Call of Duty Modern Warfare was in development, the whole thing is stupid, pointless and just a bunch of old men who are out of the loop knee-jerk reacting to a non-issue.

Scott Sayare, in Paris, contributed to this report.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.