Sunday, December 11, 2011

Camouflage as Hide and Seek

WWI disguises: one thing looks like something else

From Reginald John Farrer, The Void of War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, pp. 67-68—

"In certain aspects the war [World War I] is nothing but a glorious, gigantic game of hide and seek—camouflage is nothing else. It is not only the art of making things invisible, but also of making them look like something else. Even the art of inconspicuousness is subtle and exciting. What glory it must be to splash your tents and lorries all over with wide waggles of orange and emerald and ochre and umber, in a drunken chaos, until you have produced a perfect futurist masterpiece which one would thin would pierce the very vaults of heaven with its yells. However, as pandemonium produces numbness in the ear, so I suppose a Lost-Dogs'-Home-at-Battersea in chromatics does deaden visibility in a dun-colored ensemble.

But disguise is an even higher branch of the art: you go on to make everything else look like something else. Hermit crabs and caddis worms become our masters. Down from the sky peers the microscopic midget of a Boche plane: he sees a tree—but it may be gun: he sees a gun—but it may be only a tree. And so the game of hide and seek goes on, in a steady acceleration of ingenuity on both sides, till at last the only logical outcome will be to have no camouflage at all. You will simply put out your guns fair and square in the open, because nobody will ever believe, by that time, that anything really is what it looks like.

As far as guns go, the war is developing into a colossal fancy dress ball, with immunity for the prize: wolves in sheeps' clothing are nothing to these shepherdesses of the countryside. The more important they are, the more meekly do they shrink from under dominoes of boughs or sods, or strawberry netting tagged over with fluffets of green and brown rags. And sometimes they lurk under some undiscoverable knoll in a coppice, and do their barking through a little hole from which you would only expect rabbits, not shells. It must be the most endless joy to go on planning these disguises. One would lie awake at night wondering to make ones gun look like a dog kennel, or a dog kennel conceal a gun. But, of course, the individual camouflage is even more exciting yet."