Camouflage for Christmas


Civilians draped in the accouterments of war is nothing new. The sons of Roman gladiators crafted wooden versions of their fathers’ armor, 18th-century English mothers sewed Red Coat replicas for their toddlers and every bona fide hippie still this side of the grass (pun intended) once donned a duck green field jacket from the local Army surplus store.

These are instances of what social scientists and others refer to as the “militarization of non-combatants” - a culture-wide, deep identification with the warrior class charged to protect the tribe and its interests.

In today’s America, battle garb for the civilian masses has taken the shape not of hammered armor, but dappled, asymmetrical earth tones superimposed on damn near anything you can name.

We speak of course of camouflage, the secular liturgical colors of choice for millions – colors that in these trying and divisive times fairly rival the evermore ubiquitous red, white and blue.

While defining (non-game hunting) camo’s modern day significance is an often subjective undertaking, at its most elemental the proliferation of camo signals allegiance with those who serve in our armed forces.

Understood in that narrow context, camouflage heralds a tangible bond with the women and men at the beckon call of the political powers that be.

But in ways small and large, camouflage has evolved from a statement of solidarity to a partly conscious, partly unconscious “Camo Nation” worldview that was cast at Ground Zero and made strong with Trump-style xenophobic anxiety and pseudo patriotism.

The Camo Nation narrative is evidenced not only in the vast array of (mostly imported) camouflage merchandise, but two whole segments of American society: popular fashion and sports.

In the 2005 camouflage-centered runway show and resulting short film “Fashion Resistance to Militarism”, Oakland, Calif.-based Women of Color Resource Center examines the growing embrace of camo by designers and consumers alike.

Framing fashion as an expression of societal values and priorities, the film posits the increased demand for camo as a “normalization of militarism” that blurs the lines between soldiers and civilians, warriorism and feminism.

Switching mediums, writer and military veteran Scott Beauchamp in a Nov. 8, 2015 Aljazeera America Online post decries the increased presence of militarism in sports.

Citing the digitally produced camouflage uniforms now standard in professional and collegiate sports, Beauchamp calls for a restoration of the clear line between military and civilians: “The problem is that thinking of sports as a metaphor for warfare obfuscates the purpose of both practices. Football is not warfare. It’s football...

“Yet in America, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other — both in the language we use to describe sports, and in the garments athletes wear to play them.”

Whatever the dynamics that conspire to make it so, there can be no mistaking the strong and growing identification of the nation’s protected with their protectors.

It’s a phenomenon fraught with unintended consequences, not the least of which is selling us ruffian, scare-tactic presidential candidates.

And why the camo fatigues are probably flying off the shelves this Christmas.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Jackson, Ohio. Email donaldlrollins@

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2016

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