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August 20, 2009

BAG Archive Edition: War Time America

Archive Note: This post appeared on November 18, 2007 featuring the cover image from “Homeland,” contributor Nina Berman’s new book. (Full disclosure: I wrote the afterward.)  The image raises the question of whether Americans really did then and do now consider themselves and the country “at war.”  Original post/comment thread here.

Berman-Stealth (click for larger view)

My first association….

Right after returning from Spain in August, I remember turning on the TV to watch a bit of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.  Having been away from the States for nearly a year, I remember being jarred by the super-sized and jingoistic display of the session’s opening festivities.  An American flag was stretched out that literally spanned the footprint of the stadium court.  Liza Minelli was called upon to ring (wring?) out a painfully long and overwrought rendition of America the Beautiful.  Then, a squadron of fighter jets blew violently over the top of the stadium in perfect coordination with the end of the song.

In her continuing look at militarization and the security of the homeland, contributer Nina Berman offers us a set of images tied to Atlantic City’s “Thunder Over The Boardwalk” air show this past August.  As she writes:

There are many of these shows all around the country done by all branches of the military.  They are huge productions costing millions of dollars and usually have a very robust, aggressive energy.  They now also have a big recruitment component.

I am interested in your reflections on the photo, as well as either or both of its companions (1, 2).  Because Nina was more interested in the areas of the beach which were off from the main viewing ground, there are elements here that lend a particular twist to the themes of power and defense.  In general, however, I feel the shot conveys a unique mood and aura of post-9/11 America, America under the “terror war,” or what the Administration constantly refers to as “America at war.”

(image: ©Nina Berman.  New Jersey.  August 2007.  Used by permission)

  • volcanoben

    The three photos have an eerie juxtaposition of the military and “family vacation.” The photos with the fighters readily convey that mood, but the photo with the stealth bomber (which at first looks like a kite) is perhaps more disturbing. The stealth bomber transiting the sky was designed to drop nukes, and today drops precision-guided bombs on Iraq/Afghanistan from bases in the United States. . . kind of spooky.

  • lytom

    Cheap, obscene entertainment. Don’t they realize the purpose of these bombers? Don’t they care? And then, there is Paintball.
    The dilapidated corner of the building shows the cost of war, yet the citizens of the imperium do not notice.
    Some may think this picture is part of the past, illusion of change is strong and hopeful, but how long can you hold onto it, when the policies are the same as before and deceiving even better.

  • Amir Goy

    Fourth Reich anyone?

  • JayDenver

    American beacheads…

  • QuietJim

    This post is like Bill O the Clown for liberals.
    How about a picture of the Boardwalk being so crowded all day from one end to the other it is difficult to walk from the beach to the street. Of course the military portion of the show is used for recruitment. DUH! If you are not in favor of disbanding the military then you are for recruitment.
    The US gov does not put on this show as the disingenuous Nina implies. Some guy who puts on airshows for a living gets some military demonstration teams on his bill. 50% of the show has nothing to do with the military, just regular air show fare of guys in old planes doing loop de loops and stuff. The show lasts from 10AM to 3PM. I guarantee 10 seconds after this picture was taken all looked up to see the big plane fly by. The 2 pictures you have to click on show the U2 of air shows (funny no?), The Air Force Thunderbirds. As an American I’m really proud of these pilots and team members and especially proud of the woman pilot. They are amazing and a marvel to see. Another amazing segment is a Coast Guard air/sea helicopter rescue demonstration. I think liberals are in favor of that, right?
    I agree about the US tennis open and sports events in general. It’s pretty silly but harmless. Thunder Over the Boardwalk is just a fun time, especially if you have preferred seating, lunch and accommidations included, all comped by The Borgata.

  • QuietJim

    I’m not done. Thinking this has relevance to 9/11 is stupid. I first saw the Thunderbirds at Lackland Air Force base in 1965. Could of gotten the same shots then. Peripheral workers and G.I.’s not paying too much attention.

  • John Lucaites

    QuietJim: I agree that the image probably is not explicitly or causally tied to 9/11. Your point that we might have seen something similar in 1965 at the heart of the Cold War is much to the point. AND, I would say, more’s the pity. The image is not about recruitment per se but about the militarization of our society (what that Republican stalwart Eisenhower warned us about … the “military industrial complex”) and the ways in which such “spectacles” become altogether normative. And you are wrong, IMHO, that is it is either silly or harmless … the more we talk about it like that, perhaps the more we incline ourselves to think it is so, but that only inclines us to accept the idea that we should be militarized or that we should extend control to the military/technocracy and so on. ALL OF THAT is tragically dangerous to a democratic public culture. Whether you agree with that or not I think the photo stages a productive and important conversation about it. And castigating it as “Bill O the clown for Liberals” simply risks shutting down the conversation. That too is pitiable.

  • thebewilderness

    I think the way it ties into 9/11 is that shots like this now look like a bombing run, rather than an air show.

  • Russ Nichols

    We were sitting on our deck on top of a hill in L.A. one 4th of July a couple of years ago when one of these Stealth Bombers blew just a hundred feet or so above our heads. Those things are huge and very very loud. Scared the hell out of us. It was on its way to Dodger stadium for a show.
    As for the recruitment part, I have no respect for recruiters. As a kid I was recruited into the Army on a lie; the recruiter promised me a certain MOS, (job) but when I got in, they switched it to something completely different. If this seems a little off message, I tell that story wherever I get the chance as a warning to other young people. Well, I did my time honorably, but I didn’t like it one bit.
    I think it is a waste of the taxpayer’s money to be doing these huge expensive shows of military hardware.

  • Wayne Dickson

    I can’t help comparing Berman’s first shot to a shot from the documentary Control Room, where a U.S. airplane in a similar position fires a missile that hits the TV crew, killing the innocent journalist we’ve been watching on screen.
    Americans are obsessed with keeping Americans safe from loosely organized cells of terrorists armed with car bombs. To know what [lack of] security in the post-Bush world really is about, they should try living under the 24/7 threat of missiles fired from American fighter-bombers.

  • politickybitch

    Airshows are noisy. That particular plane is not. What, nobody noticed that the militarism is rampant in this country?
    From the black heart of the M-I-C.

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