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October 25, 2007

Somebody Please, Put A Brain In My Bullet


I’d like your help with this … since I found this cover ambiguous — if not intentionally manipulative.

From the graphic and the (main) headline, the point seems to be that bullets (and maybe, war itself) is not the answer.  The intimation I got (reading top-to-bottom) is that higher expression, negotiation and consensus are the emerging implements of future conflict.  (This is based on the visual assumption that the bullets are morphing into pens.)

Reading the summary, and then the main article, however, I think I got it completely wrong — in part, because the headline misrepresents the written content.

Based on the text inside, the subhead (in red) is the more congruent one.  It is consistent with the magazine’s thesis that wars are inevitable — especially insurgent wars.  That being the case, an aggressor country not only needs all the bullets it can get, but a lot more intellectual firepower too, including more linguists, civil-affairs officers and engineers, and  tons more advisors to train and embed with proxies and local friendlies.

Looking back at the cover, therefore, the phrase “not bullets” seems completely misleading.  Who knows.  Maybe The Economist finessed the message to compel a newsstand buy from both the peaceniks and the warheads?

Regarding the photo-illustration specifically, whereas my first tendency was to read the bullets as morphing — in a more thoughtful and high-minded sense — into instruments of diplomacy, this is not what TE was going for at all.  In light of the text,  these are “poison pens”, representing the combination of tactical human resources and the customary steel to form a more all-piercing conquering agent.

(And then, what do you make of the choice of the fountain pen?  And what’s with the angle, and kinetics, of the belt?)

Finally, from a broader perspective, has the concept of peace been completely co-opted?  I mean, after seven years of “the war on everything,” is this cover primary evidence that people mostly have bullets for brains?

(photo-illustration: Eyevine.  October 25, 2007.

  • Kevin Hayden

    I was tempted to say that the most vital one to win was the war on Republicans. But given the excess of wars, a Mandatory Group Wedgie on Republicans, followed by deportation (since they all break the laws and their oaths) ought to suffice.
    But you’re correct. The cover is terribly misleading. Correctly, every other pen would be a bullet still.

  • John Lucaites

    Kenneth Burke famously dedicated his projects to the notion “ad bellum purificandum,” the purification of war. A provocative perspective by incongruity. But the idea has several resonating qualities. One is that we simply can’t avoid the human impulse to perfection (hence the commitment to hierarchy, hence the capacity and “need” for war), but perhaps we can find ways to transform the violence into a mode of symbolic action that might be less oppressive. Note the adverb “might.” The assumption is that it is the best we can hope for. But also, there is the implicit assumption that all attempts at control — whether with fists or with words — is inherently an act of war, an act of violence, albeit by other means. I’ve not read the article in The Economist, but the picture is an almost perfect allegory for the tension between the assumption that the use of words to control the other are somehow less transgressive than sheer force. One can imagine the “anthropologists” we have been sending into Iraq of late as wearing these bandoliers … What’s that old saying: Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never harm us? Of course, we insist on teaching our kids this ditty precisely because we know how harmful words can be!

  • toto


  • stevelaudig

    Brains? No. Bullets.

  • PTate in MN

    “Finally, from a broader perspective, has the concept of peace been completely co-opted? I mean, after seven years of “the war on everything,” is this cover primary evidence that people mostly have bullets for brains?”
    I recoiled instinctively at the pen nibs. While the image of bullets in a bandolier is not surprising, the image of sharp, piercing pen nibs as bullets disturbed me. It awoke some kind of low level needle phobia.
    You ask whether, in the world of poor boundaries that is Bushco’s America, the concept of peace–that is, the cessation of violent international conflict– been turned inside out. Good question! IMHO, to Bushies, “Peace” is the victory that can be achieved AFTER all our enemies have been crushed– not the cessation of conflict, but the securing of our national interests through victory. And because we fight to achieve this peace, war is the same as peace. Our soldiers and military actions are peacekeepers.
    I have been pondering the psychic battlefield of “support the troops!” In our desire to criticize the war, but support the individuals who are fighting that war, Americans have begun to glorify military service above all careers. Soldiers are heroes! They are willing to lay down their life for US. It is becoming hard to imagine political leadership that does not have military experience–the election of 2008 may be the last time we see presidential candidates who have not served in the military. Are we seeing a re-establishment of a social hierarchy led by fighting men, like some neo-feudal system with its three estates of warrior nobles, priests and peasants? Yesterday’s soldiers have become today’s peacekeeper heroes and will become tomorrow’s leaders. It follows that other civilian careers–the linguists, civil-affairs officers, engineers and advisors–will get sucked into this vortex with everything serving the goal of securing “peace” aka US interests.

  • jtfromBC

    From The Economist’s history of rationalizing the British Empire to the adventures of US hegemony, this cover wouldn’t pose a problem for Woody Guthrie.
    “As through this world i ramble
    I’ve met lots of funny men
    Some will rob you with a six gun
    Some with a fountain pen”

  • Rafael

    Pens instead of bullets, or simply a bullet to the brain.
    We report, you decide.

  • jtfromBC

    This cover offers a fitting logo for a Bipolar global capitalist condition as diagnosed by Thomas Freidman.
    ” The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”
    -New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1999

  • demit

    Chiming in late here, but from what I can see the cover metaphor has nothing to do with the text of the article. It looks to me to be a generic image vaguely inspired by “the pen is mightier than the sword”, created on its own and only later pressed into service as being sort of in the vein of this article. The closest I could make it relate was to think of the pen nibs as representing the creation of democracy and/or working government: that, as stated in the article, Western armies must learn that their best hope is to “create the political space to build viable governments.” But that’s a reach, requiring the viewer to provide their own link that way. I don’t think the image is deliberately misleading so much as it was a stock image misapplied.

  • eatbees

    Putting pen nibs in a bandolier to be rapid-fired at the enemy means subordinating brains to warmaking and not the other way around. It is the main title that is inconsistent with the article’s message.

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