Claim:   Soldier scrawls his response to an unfaithful woman on the back of a tank.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2005]

Click to enlarge

Origins:   Although the proverb tells us that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” that doesn’t always prove to be the case. Many times one or both members of involuntarily-separated couples have found partners available in the here and now preferable to the uncertainty of distant paramours who may (or may not) return to their embraces someday.

Historically, men have been the gender whose activities most often took them away from home for extended periods of time, as they engaged in pursuits of exploration, commerce, and politics while their female counterparts remained behind to care for homestead and family. War, particularly, has always been a great separator — it generally takes men (and women too) far afield to foreign lands, keeps them there for extended periods of time, and adds a substantial risk that they may not live to see home again.

The spouses and girlfriends/boyfriends of soldiers in the field have not always dealt with the loneliness and uncertainty of long separations well, many of them opting to pursue “here and now” relationships with others rather than waiting to resume interrupted marriages and courtships when (and if) their partners eventually return. So common was the phenomenon of an American GI’s receiving a dreaded letter from the girl he left behind informing him that she had taken up someone else, that during World War II such missives became known as “Dear John” letters — so called because “John” was a common men’s given name, and “Dear John” reflected the stilted formality with which the writers tried to distance themselves from the heartbreaking news they were delivering. (Since then, various legends have arisen about particularly cruel and inventive ways in which “Dear John” messages have been delivered.)

All of this background leads up to the photograph displayed above, sent to us by a U.S. serviceman stationed in Iraq and picturing a somewhat obscene message (“Suck my balls you unfaithful whore”) found scrawled on the back of an Iraqi M109 howitzer located in a tank junkyard in Taji, Iraq. Presumably the graffiti-writer was the recipient of a “Dear John” notification (which these days might likely be delivered by telephone or e-mail rather than handwritten letter) from his wife or girlfriend and took out his frustrations in a message writ large upon an even larger piece of artillery — perhaps not so much as a communiqué of defiance directed at his faithless woman, but as a gesture of bravado to be shared with his comrades-in-arms. Although we know the photograph to be genuine, we don’t know the identity of the message-writer or his motivations, so we cannot do more than speculate about the latter.

Last updated:   25 April 2005