The Hurt Locker

Two pictures to sum up a decade. One, a man encased in defensive armour, surrounded by explosive cannisters. He's a stranger in a foreign land, an embattled American, homemade bombs weaving a spiderweb in the desert sands beneath his feet. The devices are all aimed in his direction like gigantic bullets, together forming a silent threat simmering just underneath the surface. Two, a man in a cavernous, overwhelming, colorful yet utterly sterile supermarket, faced down by hundreds upon hundreds of cardboard boxes, each containing processed and mass-produced snacks. More significant than the contents is the packaging - this is nutrition second, consumption first, and an empty, dissatisfying consumption at that. The bombs are existential threats; the boxes are not, and yet somehow their spiritual threat seems deeper. As Jason Bellamy astutely notes (in an observation which inspired the pictures and paragraph which open this piece), "In staring at all the cereal boxes on the shelf, he is presented with a multitude of choices, just as when he's disarming a bomb, but his choices don't mean anything. There's no 'wrong' choice. It's a reminder of how he misses the rush of duty, when every decision has a potentially life-altering consequence."

Pick your poison. Sgt. William James has certainly picked his.

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(This piece is cross-posted on Wonders in the Dark, where the rest of the "Best of the 21st Century" series will be exclusively unfolding.)

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