The United States military's campaign of public relations and
cultural subversion is a beast of many personalities. One Navy
advertisement cuts between footage of a placid suburban scene
and footage of highly visual, highly testosterone fueled actions
performed by members of the Navy during which a voiceover laments,
"Somewhere some poor guy is buying a minivan." In another
military ad, parents marvel at the firmer handshakes and more
assertive eye contact of their homecoming sons. In a political
climate whose main feature is an increasingly ambiguous and unpopular
war, the military continues to employ a manifold strategy to captivate
and capture new victims. These strategies depend on recognition
as a cultural institution and brand name. The Army logo is splashed
across billboards in movies, and the Army even sponsors NASCAR
racers. Advertisements still rely on themes of patriotism and
public service to encourage recruits, but messages of personal
independence, increased confidence, and other self-focused gains
set the current precedent.
The military as a public service: educational opportunities
and disassociations from war
A high school teacher calls for her students' attention and instructs
them to put away their books. A girl unfolds a note in her hand
then glances down furtively. The camera zooms in and the words
on the folded paper come into focus: "You'll do great!",
it reads. "Love, mom." In the corner of the television
screen, the U.S. Army logo floats modestly alongside the logo
of the Ad Council.
The joint public service announcement was part of an ongoing
effort, "Operation: Graduation," an ad campaign focused
on encouraging students to graduate from high school, which the
Army promotes to lend itself credibility as a supporter of education.
No mention is made of war or of violence. This is the kinder,
gentler side of the Army, or at least the appearance thereof.
The more ways a recognizable organization can weave itself into
popular culture, the more guises it can assume, the greater likelihood
it will have of becoming a normal function of culture.
Military recruiters are also encouraged to establish friendlier,
more personal relationships with their student demographics. "Army
officials spell out the rules of engagement: Recruiters are told
to dig in deep at their assigned high schools, to offer their
services as assistant football coaches--or basketball coaches,
or track coaches, or wrestling coaches or baseball coaches,"
according to a September 12 article in The Nation. In line
with the machismo of the Army, however, recruiters are not advised
to serve as softball coaches or volleyball coaches, which one
can reasonably assume reflects the popular opinion of these sports
Recruiters attempt to befriend the more influential members of
the student body, from football captains to student body presidents.
The recruiters hope that whether or not these students end up
becoming recruits themselves, they may become useful allies providing
recruiters with lists of other potentially interested students.
The Nation article concludes: "In the spring, when
students' futures loom largest, the [recruiting] handbook advises:
'For some it is clear that college is not an option, at least
for now. Let them know that the Army can fulfill their college
aspirations later on.'"
The military as a (unisex) product: selling self-confidence
Magda Khalifa is a sergeant in the Army Reserve. She is also
the subject of a full, two-page advertisement in Jane,
a popular women's magazine that purports to endorse feminism and
women's equality. "So, while the rest of us were busy playing
with Barbies and toy horses as kids," says the ad, "Magda
Khalifa was dreaming up ways to change the world." Among
the perks of life in the Reserves, the text claims, are continual
excitement and the assurance that "You definitely score cool
girl points" for being skilled with weaponry. The ad panders
to an assumptive quasi-feminist inclination that men and women
are equal: equally strong, equally capable, and equally able to
fight. But the claim being sold by the advertiser is specious
considering the Army's unease with gender integration throughout
its history. The Army appeals to emotions, for under any logical
circumstances, what woman would choose to lose her individuality,
possibly her life, in pursuit of uncertain goals? The Army is
not a bastion of self-discovery.
Cultural undertows: the military as an institution
"You're with us or against us. You support America or you
don't." And the support of America includes, by proxy, support
of the American military. The Bush administration supports a "Freedom
Walk" to commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks and celebrate the
military, helping to wed the military and the attacks in the popular
consciousness. Commemorations of 9/11 wind their way through speeches
supporting the war in Iraq and institutionalized militarism. The
yellow ribbons displayed to support U.S. troops have been bleached
white after months and years of conflict. And still more troops
are called upon. More troops return to Iraq. And more grieving
mothers begin to wonder about the wisdom of the administration.
But the military remains the elephant in the political arena.
And until questions about the elephant are brought into the discussion,
the country will continue to suffer from its destructive appetite.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)