The Tank: Détourned
In The World’s Armored Fighting Vehicles, a tank is defined as “a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities. Firepower is normally provided by a large-calibre main gun in a rotating turret and secondary machine guns. Heavy armour and all-terrain mobility provide protection for the tank and its crew” (van Senger Und Etterlin, 1960).
Russians have been making a wide range of tanks, of which the Russian tank T-62 is a good example. One of the largest markets for these tanks is the Middle East, Syria in particular. Syria ordered 500 tanks from the Soviet Union in 1973, and 200 from Libya in 1978. In 1982, Syria ordered a further 300 tanks from the Soviet Union (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2011). Thus, as of 2005, Syria had 1,000 T-62s in service (Syria–Army Equipment). Unfortunately, the Syrian regime has been using these and other types of Russian tanks against its own people.
Syria originally ordered these tanks as a defence against its traditional enemy, Israel, which regularly orders US-made M48 Patton tanks. Israel used the M48s in 1976 against another of its neighbouring countries, Jordan, which is also a steady buyer of the M48 Patton tanks. Moreover, M48 Patton tanks were used by the Lebanese Army, the South Lebanon Army and other Lebanese militias in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military expenditure was estimated to be $1,630 billion in 2010, which represents a real-terms increase of 1.3% over 2008 and a 50% increase since 2001. The top five spenders are the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia, and tank manufacturing makes up a sizeable portion of their investment. For instance, in 2010, the Syrian military’s expenditure was US$2.2 billion, Israel’s was US$13 billion, Jordan’s was US$1.3 billion, and Lebanon’s was US$1.5 billion (SIPRI, 2011).
The tank has played a dominant role in the visual literature that has been produced since the start of the Syrian uprising. It represents the military force of the ruling regime, and many artists, especially caricaturists, have made fun of the Syrian tanks being used against the Syrian civilians instead of against Syria’s traditional enemy, Israel.
Last September, a Red Crescent volunteer in the city of Homs was killed by a bullet inside an ambulance while he was helping some injured people (Reuters News Agency, 2012). This incident posed a question: what if tanks were ambulances? What if armoured live-saving vehicles were let into the effected neighbourhoods of Homs instead of armoured vehicles of destruction?
What if the tank is détourned to be a tracked, armoured vehicle which combines operational mobility and tactical defensive capabilities designed to save lives? Heavy armour and all-terrain mobility provides protection for the tank and its crew.
The production cost for a Russian T-62 is estimated at around US$4 million, and the cost for a US M48 Patton is around US$5.5 million. Conversely, a brand new GMC G4500 Braun Ambulance is priced at US$129,900.
The idea for this détournement was conceived after looking at the current situation in Syria, which includes the deployment of hundreds of military tanks into Syrian cities. These tanks are not only destroying properties and homes, they are also wounding and killing many civilians. In the midst of this situation, no ambulances are being allowed into the destroyed neighbourhoods to save the lives of the injured. Moreover, the wounded people are not allowed to go to hospitals but instead are taken to field clinics that offer only basic supplies and equipment.
For this project, two tanks were chosen – the Russian-made M-62, and the American-made M48 Patton. As explained earlier, these two types of tanks are very “common” in Middle East countries. The “visual distortion” (Debord & Wolman, 1965) of the détourned tanks was twofold: first, the removal of the guns, and second, the painting of the tank in white and red, similar to ambulances. One of the tanks is détourned to be a Red Cross ambulance and the second a Red Crescent. The cross and crescent represent the two major Syrian religious affiliations – Christianity and Islam, respectively.
The pictures used in the backdrop were chosen from a Syrian context. The one in the centre shows three Russian-made tanks in the city of Homs. The other two pictures show injured people getting treatment in temporary field clinics.
In conclusion, the aim of the détournement project was to ask a simple question, yet the answer is not so simple: instead of investing in killing machines, like tanks, would it not be better to invest in products that contribute to the growth and healing of humanity, like ambulances?
Debord, G., & Wolman, G. J. (1965). A User’s Guide to Détournement. Retrieved March 13, 2102, from Bureau of Public Secrets: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/detourn.htm
Reuters News Agency. (2012, January 2012). Red Crescent official shot dead in Syria—ICRC. Retrieved March 7, 2012, from The Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1121402—red-crescent-official-shot-dead-in-syria-icrc
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (2011, April 11). Background paper on SIPRI military expenditure data, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2012, from SIPRI: http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/factsheet2010
Syria—Army Equipment. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2012, from Global Security: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/syria/army-equipment.html
von Senger Und Etterlin. F.M. (!960). The world’s armored fighting vehicles. London: Macdonald & Co. Ltd.