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The phones of war

A Brooklyn photographer has engraved mobile phones with slogans that US soldiers scratched onto Zippo lighters during the Vietnam War. The overall message: nothing has changed.

During World War II when Zippo briefly ceased manufacturing for the consumer market to contract exclusively with the US military, the lighter was something of a mainstay in soldiers' kits. During the Vietnam War, the lighters took on another purpose: a means for soldiers to express their feelings.

These could be modified Bible quotes, images, or personal slogans. But one element was common to so many of them: cynicism, nihilism, and disillusionment.

Not much has changed in the decades since then, said Brooklyn artist Henry Hargreaves.

"Looking at the original lighters it seemed nothing had really changed from what I was hearing of the current feelings of soldiers fighting in the modern day wars," he said in an email to CNET.

"I decided to recreate these Vietnam Zippos with the same sayings (sub Vietnam for Iraq, Afghanistan), but update the Zippos to phones. Showing the progression of time through technology and what I imagined may be now the soldiers' close personal possession, but moral-wise nothing has changed and again history repeats itself not learning any lessons for its past."

The new work -- called War Phones, created in collaboration with prop stylist Nicole Heffron -- is something of a departure for the artist whose work is usually grounded in consumerism and food. It features a variety of seared, cracked, scuffed, and stained mobile phones engraved with mottos that appeared on those Zippo lighters. The long-standing horror of war is what Hargreaves expects will stand out.

"After speaking with my buddy Connor who served in the Laghman Province in Afghanistan, he reiterated this by telling me it was as if they were in the worst place on Earth and they 'had accepted their fate as being damned to an eternity in hell like it was a joke'," Hargreaves said.

"When things are so bad, the final defence you had was your sense of humour. He requested I do one final phone with what had become the new slogan of the army 'hearts and minds', but the reality couldn't be further from this, he told me..."