For over a century, cigarettes were not just icons of cultural sophistication, sexual attraction, freedom and youth; they were sources of comfort and reassurance to many — especially to those that the front. During the First World War, sheer boredom and anxiety of the trenches was soothed, to some extent, by cigarette smoking. A shared smoke was an act of camaraderie amid the violence, even between the warring factions which exchanged cigarettes (among other items) during the Christmas Truce in 1914.
During the Second World War, Bull Durham tobacco company reassured that “When our boys light up, the Huns will light out.” Even today, war and cigarettes go together. One of the most iconic photographs of the Iraq War depicts a soldier, with a bloody scratch on his nose, smoking after 12 hours of combat in Fallujah. The dirt-smeared, battle-weary face with a cigarette languidly dangling from the lips belonged to Lance Corporal James Blake Miller, who would be quickly dubbed “the Marlboro Man” or “Marlboro Marine”.
The photo was taken by Luis Sinco of Los Angeles Times on 10 November, 2004; Miller told the intruding photographer, “If you want to write something, tell Marlboro I’m down to four packs, and I’m here in Fallujah till who knows when. Maybe they can send some. And they can bring down the price a bit.” The photo was depicted on the cover of more than 150 newspapers and magazines, including the New York Post, whose headline read, “Marlboro Men kick butt in Fallujah”. Dan Rather called it “the best war photograph of recent years.”
Because of his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, Miller is now separated from his wife and family and currently lives alone. He is unable to discuss certain things that happened in Fallujah. Read Sinco’s touching tribute to Miller here. Read the Guardian’s and the Seattle Times’ coverage here and here.