Secret Military Patches
February 7, 2008 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me is a new book by author and interesting person Trevor Paglen. He collects patches designed by military personnel to commemorate secret "black-ops" projects.
posted by Miko (34 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this at the SFMoMA the other day and flipped through it. Fascinating stuff! But what I don't understand is this: why would anyone go through the trouble of making a patch for a super secret, black ops program? Seems rather counterintuitive.
posted by aladfar at 12:36 PM on February 7, 2008

On a very similar note...

Recent Trevor Paglen post. Cool stuff.
posted by Mister_A at 12:36 PM on February 7, 2008

We're on a mission from DOD is pretty awesomely good.

I'm confused at to how wearing these patches wasn't considered to be violating some state secret restriction or whatnot.
posted by noble_rot at 12:45 PM on February 7, 2008

Oh man. We should make a metafilter super secret blue-ops badge.
posted by dejah420 at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2008

why would anyone go through the trouble of making a patch for a super secret, black ops program?

Cuz otherwyse nobodee wood no how KEWL th3y are!1
posted by LordSludge at 12:47 PM on February 7, 2008

I'm wearing my patch as I type this, dejah420.
A little tinfoil hat afloat on a lovely sea of blue.
So sparkly!
Please report to Intake Center at 16:30.
posted by Dizzy at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2008

I was just listening to this on NPR on the way home...nice timing!
posted by fuzzbean at 1:08 PM on February 7, 2008

Stop now, you read nothing, you know nothing, and I was never here.
posted by Senator at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh man. We should make a metafilter super secret blue-ops badge.

And I nominate that the first grey-ops badge should honor Miko and her detection and subsequent bust of the GiveWell-astrotrufing affair!
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on February 7, 2008

*covers monitor with aluminum foil before clicking on links*
posted by not_on_display at 1:26 PM on February 7, 2008

We should make a metafilter super secret blue-ops badge.

Vicious-looking red-eyed bunny with a flaming pancake on its head. "Catscans Forever" motto on a scroll below.
posted by CKmtl at 1:31 PM on February 7, 2008

Most Awesomely Bad Military Patches on Wired's blog on defense, Dangerroom.
posted by garlic at 1:47 PM on February 7, 2008

Oh man. We should make a metafilter super secret blue-ops badge.

It should be shaped like a giant doughnut, and have the words "There is no cabal" on it. Dontcha think?
posted by rtha at 1:48 PM on February 7, 2008

My buddy Dave bought me this book the other day, it is indeed pretty cool. The cover design is itself an actual embroidered emblem attached to the book.
posted by mwhybark at 1:58 PM on February 7, 2008

I'm a big fan of the KC-135A patch: "Built when man thought he could burn water."

The military, and the people in it, are not without their own sense of irony.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:26 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Among the 4 patches shown in the npr link, I'm counting two wizards, one ghost-rider, and two power-of-greyskull-style swords. Special Ops = Chaotic Neutral?
posted by Navelgazer at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

OK, I just bought this book, on the strength of its link here. This looks awesome, and all my coworkers want to read it, too.
posted by limeonaire at 3:56 PM on February 7, 2008

Surely someone can do better than this, but that might take some skill, or application, or more than two minutes...
posted by pompomtom at 4:15 PM on February 7, 2008

So these are patches for our brave men and women in uniform, celebrating sexism, racism, nuclear annihilation, and the bombing of civilians. Or am I missing something.
posted by nax at 4:54 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nah, I reckon you've about covered it.
posted by pompomtom at 4:56 PM on February 7, 2008

am I missing something.

A very dark sense of humor...
posted by SweetJesus at 4:56 PM on February 7, 2008

So this post had me going through a number of links, and I came across this gem of a post. It's from a UFO "researcher" trying desperately to find proof that a certain Airforce squadron had direct ties to aliens. Make sure you scroll to the results of his FOIA Q & A session.

"Q. Latin words "Gustatus Similis Pullus" are shown at the bottom of the insignia. Please translate to English?

A. Guststus Similis Pullus is dog Latin for "Tastes Like Chicken." This is supported by the alien figure, which apparently is eating the B-2.
posted by WetherMan at 6:00 PM on February 7, 2008

Clicking any of the links is going to get me on a list, right?
posted by krinklyfig at 6:36 PM on February 7, 2008

I look forward to the day when technology has finally reached the point where patches can be animated. Because I desperately want a rotating flaming skull patch. When people ask about it, I will just look at them solemnly and say, "I got this back in about '96. Things were different back then; the backgrounds were tiled, and the text was bright red and center justified. You don't know the horrors I saw, people used comic sans... all the time. I'm lucky to be here, I lost a lot of good friends to WISIWYG technology, and this patch is so that I never forget..."
posted by quin at 9:00 PM on February 7, 2008

shouldn't the metafilter seekrit patch say "[more inside]"?
posted by rmd1023 at 6:27 AM on February 8, 2008

A Mefi seekrit patch would be awesome sauce. I can totally see someone wearing a patch saying "Quonsar's Lost Battalion" on it and wiping a tear away from their eye while saying "I was at the Battle of Givewell! I saw the sockpuppets burn!"

/oh man, the Post Man was truly an amazing piece of wretchedness.
posted by ntartifex at 11:16 AM on February 8, 2008

Most of the patches there aren't a patch (oh god I'm so sorry) on the old MACV-SOG RT patches. The guys in the Mike Forces and CCN, CCC and CCS used to knock up all sorts of different team patches - each RT used to have custom ones as the Montagnards and other indigs used to love them (The CCC RT California badge for example although I am not sure exactly which guy was One-Zero at the time that patch was in use).

When the third CO of SOG took over he went apeshit and tried to have them all banned "What's the point in pretending we are a Studies and Observation Group when you're all wearing flaming death skull badges with Green Berets?" and such like (In all honesty it was probably a bit late at that time since the ARVN SOG liaison was almost certainly working for the Trinh Sat and almost all of the spies dropped into North Vietnam had been turned or spoofed).

The Special Forces still used to wear them all the time around the FOBs but that's no surprise since they were stubborn enough to not stop wearing the green beret until JFK intervened. The Son Tay raiders had the old "K.I.T.D./F.O.H.S.*" patch (which just goes to show how long they were in the mission planning stage if they got that knocked up and distributed...).

*"Kept In Total Darkness/Fed Only Horse Shit"

And I apologise for being a boring fart as well. Still. Good to have a hobby, eh?

And yes, nax, you are missing something. It's highly likely that you just wouldn't get it either so don't worry about it.
posted by longbaugh at 11:37 AM on February 8, 2008

Gosh longbaugh. Guess I just have to develop that ironic sense of humor so I can hang out here in the blue with the cool kids. I better go back to the green and ask people how to find the best lipstick to match my coloring. Or am I missing something else?
posted by nax at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2008

I see these things not so much in a celebratory way, but as occupational folklore. Humans bonded in relatively stable groups, especially when under stress, will usually tend to produce some body of art, belief, and custom, like song, speech, slang, jokes, and visual expression. I see this in kind of the same way I see prison songs and prisoner art, Bomber art from WWII, military cadence chants, and military slang. It's certainly not always pretty and not always appropriate in civilian society. In a way, that's part of the point - one the purposes of this sort of lore is to emphasize the differences in experience between those who know and understand and the rest of the world. The very fact that some of the art is offensive or objectionable is part of its power for those that design and wear it.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying it's all noble stuff, or that even part of it is noble stuff. As with a lot of unofficial expressions of belonging, they interest me as folklore.
posted by Miko at 4:50 PM on February 9, 2008

The Son Tay raiders had the old "K.I.T.D./F.O.H.S.*" patch

longbaugh, what is that image supposed to represent?
posted by Miko at 4:53 PM on February 9, 2008

Forgive my barging in here, Miko, but I believe it is a mushroom.
posted by Dizzy at 1:07 PM on February 10, 2008

Oh! OK, I get it. Makes total sense. Call me obtuse.
posted by Miko at 6:49 PM on February 10, 2008

nax - apparently you are still missing it, yes. The patches do not, as you said, represent the celebration of "...sexism, racism, nuclear annihilation, and the bombing of civilians..." but instead represent the bonding of men and women in difficult, complicated situations, the sort that most of us will luckily never experience.

I just find it a touch offensive that you assume that the people who design and wear these patches are some sort of fascist murdering scum when in fact they are generally extremely professional men and women who perform difficult tasks in relative secrecy and receive little in the way of recompense or recognition for their sacrifice. If you doubt this then read some of the Medal of Honour citations for the SOG recon veterans.

Whilst the medals represent the individual heroism that the veterans showed, those patches can be seen to represent the heroism of the team and the bonds that they developed. Feel free to disregard all of this and assume that the actions they took part in were wrong, misguided and evil but let me make this clear - the men serving in Cambodia and Laos who are only in the last ten or so years getting the recognition they deserve did nothing other than work with their team mates.

They weren't serving their country, they weren't serving the military-industrial complex - they were fighting for the men either side of them. Ask any soldier what he fights for and that will be the answer. That's been the case for thousands of years and as long as armed conflict exists it will continue to be the case. I doubt you'll find many servicemen and women who are dancing with glee when another wedding gets blown up.

Whilst racism and sexism exist within the armed forces they are neither celebrated nor tolerated. The team patches I referred to in my previous comment were designed and worn by teams consisting of three US personnel and up to 9 indigenous personnel. They could be Chinese Nungs, Montagnards (many different tribes of Vietnamese natives) or others. The Special Forces soldier is one who works with the people of a country in defence of that country and you'd be hard pressed to find a less racist group of soldiers in the world.
posted by longbaugh at 3:40 AM on February 11, 2008

longbaugh, my apologies. I do in fact "get it" and I'm not missing anything. I do in fact see the humor in these, dark as it is (at least I hope it's humor-- if these are honest sentiments, I'd say we're in trouble.) My original comment was meant to be ironic, which the two people who responded right afterwards seemed to understand. Clearly, I touched a nerve and I apologize. Your response, with its implication that I was too stupid to ever "get it" and I shouldn't even try was way more offensive than my misplaced irony. You also seem to be saying that since I don't appear to agree with you, or my experience has been different, I have no right to or basis for any opinion.

I understand black humor. I'm a teacher, and you can bet we have all sorts of jokes, comments, shorthand and off-color humor that would get us all fired, if not sued, should it get back to the parents. What we don't do is put it on a freaking patch and wear it on our sleeves.

I am not disputing individual heroism, denying the contributions of Vietnam Vets, downplaying the bonding that occurs under fire, or anything of the sort. I'm saying that if celebrating this dark humor helps you bond, or worse, justifies your sexism, racism and violence, then that is wrong.

What you seem to be saying, is that by creating an "Other," for instance the idea that aliens "taste like chicken" or objectifying women, or ridiculing someone's religion, or threatening death to entire populations, and then putting these hilarious inside jokes onto patches, this helps with the bonding, and I should be proud of these brave souls, and my criticism is just so much liberal bellyaching.

On second thought, you're right. I don't get it.
posted by nax at 12:35 PM on February 11, 2008

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