Found: Soldiers coming home to surprise their families and uploading it to YouTube. There is an endless reel of these videos, and you can watch them for hours without repeating the same clip. I thought I’d share a few with you, because when I discovered this little universe, it was just days after the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the USSR (June 22, 1941). My soldier grandfathers, the lives of vets today, and Putin’s arrival in Israel to unveil a monument to the Red Army, were top of mind. And this, well, it’s a whole other experience of war. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it. So here you go.
The videos generally follow the same format: Dads showing up in their kids’ classes, or at their parents’ offices, or on the field at live sporting events. There’s a lot of hugging, crying, screaming. Everyone is always looking slightly uncomfortable in the spotlight and yet overwhelmed with very private emotions. It’s all very staged, but there’s a moment of gut wrenching raw at the centre of it that people just can’t hide. It’s uncomfortable watching. Sometimes there are moms, but mostly they’re dads.
Some of the kids are heartbreakingly sad, and also horrifying. They can’t stop sobbing and they often don’t know what to say or how to react. And they’re in their classrooms or at a school assembly. And maybe I’m cynical, but you have to wonder about the teasing that goes on after.
(Warning: this may make you cry.)
Many of the videos are done by local TV stations, but they’re just as often homemade – the camera is shaky, the angles are awkward, and feet or ceilings often take over the frame. The soldiers often talk into the camera as they move in on the homestead, and you have to wonder who they’re recording for and who they think they’re talking to.
It’s a very odd bubble world entirely removed from the hardships and politics of being in uniform. You kind of wonder about everything that happened before and after this moment, to both the soldiers and the families. Or all the awful things that soldiers do in battle. Or all the families that don’t get a surprise reunion with a bow on top.
And yes, there’s a website that collects all the videos, writes up a pithy story to accompany each submission, and posts: Welcome Home Blog. Categories include “Best Of” and “Dog Reunions”. You can, of course, ‘like’ on Facebook or follow on Twitter. It’s all very weird and very American. I’m trying to put this into context against other wars, past and present, and I just can’t quite slot this one in.
If you watch on YouTube, there’s the added weirdness of the related videos that show up in the sidebar, tagged for ‘surprise’ (surprise pregnancy announcements) and ‘reunion’ (soldiers welcomed home by dogs) – not the same thing at all.
There’s an awkward propaganda feel to it all, so I’ll leave you with a few examples of a more unified wartime messaging, when governments did have a more centralized and controlled means of distribution.
In Moscow, listening to public radio broadcast announcing the German invasion:
(This is a fairly well-known image – “Molotov’s Announcement of War” – taken by Evgenii Khaledi, Soviet photographer. David Shneer talks about it in his book Through Soviet Jewish Eye: Photography, War, and the Holocaust, and how it was cropped to convey a certain image of the first moments of war.)
The story of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters: