The Crew Of This Army National Guard M1 Abrams Tank Flies An Anarchist Flag In Kuwait (Updated)

The symbol originated with anarchist political movements, but has since migrated to other less political media, including popular television shows.

An M1 Abrams tank from 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry in Kuwait in February 2020
US Army

The practice of crews naming tanks, or otherwise adorning them with artwork, slogans, and flags, has been around since the very first types appeared on battlefields in Europe during World War I and the practice continues to this day. Pictures recently emerged of an M1 Abrams main battle tank from the South Carolina Army National Guard in Kuwait flying a large black flag with a stylized red "A" inside a circle, as well as one showing a crew member sporting a patch with a similar circled A and the phrase "No Masters." These are symbols and slogans that originated with anarchist movements more than a century ago, but they've since made their way into far less politicized subcultures. It's worth noting there's no indication that this tank's crew holds any related political beliefs.

The 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team's public affairs office posted the pictures online on Feb. 4, 2020. The headquarters of the Brigade is part of the North Carolina Army National Guard, but it also includes the 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, an element of the South Carolina Army National Guard. The M1 tank in question, which has the bumper code A-112, is assigned to 4-118th Infantry's Company A. The bulk of the 30th is presently in Kuwait as part of a rotational deployment to the Middle East and it also has personnel presently forward-deployed in Syria. 4-118th Infantry was notably the unit that briefly sent Bradley Fighting Vehicles to that country last year.

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The morale patch with the "No Masters" slogan and the circled A, which are also overlaid on top of the South Carolina state flag.

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A-112 fires its main gun during the gunnery training on Feb. 4, 2020.

The pictures show A-112 conducting gunnery training with other tanks from the battalion. This includes one with the name "Circled X," the exact meaning of which is also unclear. 

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"Circled X," another tank from Company A, 4th Battalion, 118th Infnatry.

The 30th's public affairs office has previously released pictures showing other M1s from the 1st Squadron, 150th Cavalry, a unit from the West Virginia Army National Guard that is also assigned to the brigade, with what are perhaps more typical names, such as "Bulletproof," "Dealer," "Dinocave," "Don Quixote," and "Drink Water." Another tank simply has the logo of soft-serve ice cream and fast-food chain Dairy Queen on the main gun barrel.

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There's another one called "Dracarys," which features an image of a dragon on the main gun barrel, as well, obvious references to the now-completed HBO television series "Game of Thrones." References to this extremely popular show have appeared in military artwork in the past.

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The "anarchy" tank from 4-118th Infantry does not appear to have a name, though it does have a large black box on its main gun barrel where one might have previously been. The flag draws clear attention to the theme, which also, as noted, appears on the morale patch that one of the crew members is seen wearing during the gunnery training. That patch also overlays the circled A and the "No Masters" slogan on top of the South Carolina state flag.

The circled A dates back to 19th-century anarchist movements and is a reference to a phrase in French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's book What Is Property?, which he published in 1840. He wrote that "society seeks order in anarchy," leading to the "A" for "anarchy" within an "O" for "order." Proudhon has been described since then as the "father of anarchism."

In the context of the circled A, "No Masters" seems to be a reference to "No Gods, No Masters." This is a slogan that also emerged in Europe in the late 1800s associated with anarchist and labor movements. 

Regardless, the circled A has evolved and transformed in the centuries since then, perhaps most notably becoming a core symbol among punk rock groups and the anarcho-punk movement that first emerged in the 1970s in the United Kingdom. "No Gods, No Masters," is also now heavily intertwined with punk and punk rock movements.

It's unclear what the crew of A-112 is actually referring to with their flag and the "No Masters" patch. We have reached out to the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team's public affairs office asking for more information. However, the circled A and this slogan have made their way into decidedly less political realms in recent years, most notably the very popular television show "Sons of Anarchy," which aired on FX between 2008 and 2014. 

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Cast members from the "Sons of Anarchy" television show, seated, sign autographs for US service members in Iraq in 2010 as part of a visit organized by the United Service Organizations (USO).

The show centered on a fictional biker gang of the same name, which had logo that featured a grim reaper holding a sphere emblazoned with the circled A. It also led to the popularization of the phrase "No Rules, No Masters," which made its way onto licensed t-shirts that are still available for sale online.

Still, naming a tank in reference to a television show, or even displaying art or a flag directly referencing that kind of media, is one thing. Flying a huge anarchist flag with no other immediate context is another and it is certainly a unique display based on the other images we've seen. It's also notable given how seriously the U.S. military takes its role as an apolitical entity and the steps it has taken to make this clear over the years.

Hopefully, we'll learn more about what A-112's crew is referring to specifically. It's certainly an interesting choice for a theme, but it also definitely carries on the well-established tradition of naming tanks, as well as other armored vehicles, and otherwise adding personalized touches in the form of artwork and slogans.

UPDATE: 3:35pm EST

Some of our military readers have informed us that "Circled X," the name of one of the other M1 tanks assigned to Company A, 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry, is a reference to Department of the Army (DA) Form 5988-E, Equipment Maintenance and Inspection Worksheet. The form calls for the individual filling it out to mark it with one of five status symbols. A circled X is the second most serious symbol, indicating a problem that requires approval from higher authorities to continue operating the vehicle, possibly with restrictions, until the problem has been resolved.

UPDATE: 5:00pm EST

U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Cindi King, a public affairs officer for the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team in Kuwait, has provided the following statement to clarify the use of the flag It was not intended to be a political statement, as we already indicated was very possibly the case.

Here is the full statement:

"They are A company - so it is tradition they nickname their lead tank and company after something that starts with A. There was nothing intended to be disrespectful nor political."

"They do not want to appear disrespectful or making any type of statement other than they are A company and this nickname sounds tough. To ensure there is no further misunderstanding or appearance of making any statement- these photos are deleted and the unit is notified that this appears to represent something that it is unintended to. They will proudly continue to fly their state flag and US flag and think of something else that begins with A. We apologize if this sent any type of negative message or appeared disrespectful or offensive. They did not want it to come across as any type of political statement - as it is not. Thank you for allowing us the chance to clarify this."

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com