January 23, 2012
U.S. Air Power in Afghanistan: From Ineffective to Disastrous — but Kindler, Gentler, and a Different Kind of Sexy
Not surprisingly, media embedding continues to pay off for the Pentagon in terms of sympathetic coverage. The latest example is a 2,000 word story, published by the NYT, praising the restraint and adaption of the U.S. Air Force and American fighter pilots in the Afghan theater when the larger point is that the utility of America’s overwhelming air presence has fluctuated between extremely limited and thoroughly counterproductive, the resource a brilliant example of overkill.
If the tone of the story is deferential to the (economy-bleeding) U.S. war machine, the accompanying photo story approaches the promotional. (Only two of the captions on the 15 muscular, dramatic and romanticized photos taken in the skies or aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis, for example, even make reference to the main point — the diminished effectiveness of these military resources. And in the photos, you see not evidence of it at all.
I wanted to mention this photo, in particular (#7 in the slideshow). Photos of fighter jets, bombs, pilots on flight decks, and control rooms with lots of electronics and colored lights are sexy, but they’re also pretty standard. In contrast (to all the other shots of boys, and boys doing boy-things), this blonde servicewoman in a bright shirt running a cloth over an opened-up F/A-18, sporting brightly-colored tats on both arms (the near one, also a women), emphasizes how militaristic imagery can be seductive in a more contemporary way, further obscuring the declining value of the lethal hardware and “collateral damage” with women, body art, color and large format imagery to amplify more cultural cool. (It’s hard to tell, but do the eyebrows, or just the expression, suggest that’s a woman on the deck in front of those Super Hornets, also?)
(photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times. caption 1: Captain Bull, who leads a team of three FA-18F Super Hornets, prepares for a mission in Afghanistan. caption 2: Aviation ordnancemen, commonly known in the Navy as “red shirts,” assemble 500-pound training bombs. caption 3: Working in the hangar bay of the John C. Stennis. There are 44 F/A-18s aboard the carrier. embedded caption: Senior officers gathered to smoke cigars and socialize after the last planes wrapped up their missions and returned to the John C. Stennis on Jan. 12.)