Orbital View: Organic Camouflage

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That’s what this satellite shot of northwest Nebraska reminds me of:


A photo posted by The Jefferson Grid (@the.jefferson.grid) on

Speaking of camouflage prints, here’s an excerpt from a 2011 piece from our magazine on the history of camouflage use:

MODERN MILITARY CAMOUFLAGE traces its origins to World War I, when the French army gathered a cadre of artists in three top-secret workshops near the western front. The blotchy smocks they created sparked the popular imagination. Camouflage was not issued widely, though, because of the high cost and low production capacity: every yard of camouflage was a hand-painted work of art.

U.S. marines in the Pacific wore industrially manufactured camouflage during World War II, but its use was limited in Europe because German paratroopers were known for their camouflage uniforms, and American officials didn’t want confusion to cause fratricide. Camo uniforms were more widely issued to U.S. troops in the early 1970s, when jungle prints provided immediate advantages in Vietnam. Patterns and colors evolved during the ’80s and ’90s, but the basic look remained the same: green and brown—striped, swirled, and blobbed.

(See all Orbital Views here)