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Reading The Pictures: Losing Our Anchor In Permanent War

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(1st two shots, click for full size)

Since when was there anything wrong with a military parade?

For twenty years now, the U.S. Navy has been celebrating "Fleet Week" in New York City, parking its warships on the island and flooding the town with its own sea of white. It's romantic, patriotic and awesome -- at least the way the media plays it.

In contrast to the admiring picture unfurled by The Times' and the Channel 5's, however, photojournalist Nina Berman set out, during that week of May 23rd through 30th, to take a promotion-free look at the military displays and exhibitions set up around the city.

What Nina discovered -- looking past the gallery of U.S. firepower; the "about town" depiction of suddenly land-hugging sailors; and classic snaps of the battle grey combination man-o-war and city-at-sea -- was a darker side of this massive show that seemed strangely taken for granted.

Specifically, I'm referring to the blatant expression of American militarism -- encompassing the idolatry of the firearm, especially the hand gun. "Display" (as one might traditionally understand the term) is one thing, so how did it come about that, around town, these weapons were being offered, placed, delivered into the arms and hands of the citizenry, particularly adolescents and children? And worse, what does it say about America now that nobody seemed to notice or care?

Whether in Times Square or Central Park, what most drew Nina's attention in this supposedly maritime festival was the decidedly non-amphibious face of the Marine exhibitions, and scenes like those above. She writes:

Gun is love, gun is guitar, gun is masculine identity, gun is female fantasy, gun is everything BUT a killing machine.

Fleet Week was teenagers wearing face paint holding weapons and looking like African child soldiers from some far away hell, instead of high school graduates from the Bronx who just joined the U.S. Marines. At Orchard Beach in the Bronx, when the helicopters flew over, the young marine recruits cheered and screamed, "This is what Iraq is gonna be like!"

What I saw was a complete disconnect from what an M-16 does, or for that matter, a grenade launcher, a 50-caliber, all the automatic hand guns and, especially, what is happening in Iraq.

This was all the more strange as it was Memorial Day weekend, a time to contemplate the cost of war, during one of the bloodiest months of the Iraq Occupation. It was astounding to me that no one was offended by this. I also wondered what the deal was with those silencers, which to me says murderer, assassin, gangster.

In the images above -- and the rest of Nina Berman's photos posted this week at BAGnewsNotes -- what we see is shocking mostly in the sense of the commonplace. Seven years into the Bush Administration's paranoid global war, war imagery and war implements have bled over and merged with the symbols and scenes of urban violence and gangster warfare in one large desensitized brew.

Our worst problem now is not what we think and feel, so much as what we don't -- given how much our media, our leaders, and we, ourselves, no longer see anymore.

To See The Rest Of Nina's Images Of Fleet Week, check out:

Asking Questions About America: Fleet Week #1 (1 photo)
Black Boys With Guns:
Fleet Week #2 (5 photos)
It's Not A Hand Gun, It's
Military: Fleet Week #3 (3 photos)

(image: Nina Berman/Redux. NYC, New York, May 25, 2007. Used by permission)