Who is on the cover of Meat Is Murder by The Smiths?

11 February 2021, 14:03 | Updated: 11 February 2021, 17:51

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder album cover
The Smiths - Meat Is Murder album cover. Picture: Press/Rough Trade/Warner Music UK

Where does the photo of a young soldier on the sleeve of the third Smiths album come from?

On 11 February 1985, The Smiths released their second album. Provocatively titled Meat Is Murder, it was the follow-up to the band’s eponymous debut, released the previous year.

With the title track, frontman Morrissey made clear his feelings about vegetarianism, veganism and animal welfare. He was - and remains - an outspoken advocate for the cruelty-free lifestyle, even going as far as banning the sale of meat products at his gigs.

Morrissey in 1985
Morrissey in 1985. Picture: Sheila Rock/Shutterstock

The phrase “Meat Is Murder” was an emotive plea to cause a reaction within carnivores, with the mournful title song pondering: “The flesh you so fancifully fry / Is not succulent, tasty or kind / It's death for no reason / And death for no reason is murder”.

But while the song was designed to shock and cause an uncomfortable reaction in the listener, the cover art of the album was little bit more cryptic. It depicted a vintage head and shoulders shot of a young shoulder with the words "MEAT IS MURDER" scrawled across his helmet... The image is repeated four times alongside the band's name.

Morrissey claimed that the cover art was designed to advocate militant tactic that activists should take up to instigate real change. He told Melody Maker in March 1985: “It seems to me now that as the image of the LP hopefully illustrates, the only way that we can get rid of such things as the meat industry, and other things like nuclear weapons, is by really giving people a taste of their own medicine."

The album sleeve notes credit the film In The Year Of The Pig by American director Emile de Antonio. The documentary maker was best known for his 1967 film Rush To Judgement, which was critical of the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy - and his Vietnam movie was equally scathing about the US military's involvement in the conflict in South East Asia. In fact, as one of the first documentaries to condemn the fighting, it was actually released while the war was still underway, and received a number of protests from viewers.

The young soldier in the still used to publicise the film is Marine Corporal Michael Wynn, who hailed from Marion, Ohio. He was 20 years old when the picture was taken on 21 September 1967 in Da Nang, South Vietnam, in the middle of what was termed “Operation Ballistic Charge”. He'd only been in the Marine Corps for a year.

Da Nang, South Vietnam: Marine Cpl. Michael Wynn, 20, of Columbus, Ohio, seems to be trying to get a message across with a takeoff of the hippie slogan "make war not love" written on his helmet here.
Da Nang, South Vietnam: Marine Cpl. Michael Wynn, 20, of Columbus, Ohio, seems to be trying to get a message across with a takeoff of the hippie slogan "make war not love" written on his helmet here. Picture: Getty

According to the book U.S. Marines In Vietnam: Fighting The North Vietnamese, 1967, Operation Ballistic Charge was a simultaneous helicopter and surface attack on a location four miles South East of Dai Loc in Quảng Nam Province in Vietnam.

Another photo from Operation Ballistic Charge: 25 September 1967
Another photo from Operation Ballistic Charge: 25 September 1967. Picture: Getty Images

Wynn survived the war - he had been injured in an operation back in May 1967, but was fit to take part in Operation Ballistic Charge that September.

According to his own post on the Marion Ohio Veterans site, Corporal Wynn was injured again several months later and left Vietnam. He was promoted to Sergeant and was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1970, later emigrating to Australia in 1982.

Wynn wrote in April 2019 that the years following his military career was, like many veterans, a difficult experience: “I am proud of being a Marine and my service in Vietnam. It took me longer than it should have to get that pride because of the way Vietnam Veterans were treated upon their return and for years after. I experienced this first hand.”

In reply to a question about the Smiths’ album cover, Sergeant Wynn said that he was never asked for his permission about the use of the photo: “I first learned of it when my sister happened to see the album while she was shopping. I wasn’t real happy about The Smiths changing the wording.”

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The photo of the young soldier is still in circulation - on reissues of Meat Is Murder, the DVD release of In The Year Of The Pig and even on a denim jacket from New York design house Supreme, who have used the image in their Fall 2019 collection.