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Sep 08, 2007

Fighting in the Trenches


by John Lucaites

In the “Great War,” cultural historian Paul Fussell writes about trench warfare as a troglodyte world in which the soldier experiences an “unreal, unforgettable enclosure and constraint, as well as a sense of being unoriented  and lost.”  He concludes that “the drift of modern history domesticates the fantastic and normalizes the unspeakable.”

This quotation came to mind this past week when I encountered this photograph, which led off a Washington Post slideshow of Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) visiting the troops at Ft. Benning during the recent summer recess.

According to the caption, the senator “takes part in virtual reality firearms training.”  He does this, mind you, while still wearing a suit and tie, though he’s taken off his jacket, presumably to give himself a bit more flexibility to engage the “enemy.”

The scene is clean, almost antiseptically so, and given that no one wears air plugs, we might assume that the noise level is relatively quiet; not at all like the mind numbing din one might expect in a real fire fight.  There certainly doesn’t seem to be any danger, such as enemy combatants shooting back—otherwise we can assume he would be wearing some sort of flak jacket— and presumably no one is worried about an IED going off.

Indeed, while those shooting the “virtual reality firearms” seem to be intensely involved in what they are doing, everyone else standing around seems to be relaxed and having a good time.  Not unlike a scene we might see at, say, a local video arcade, which we know is where the Pentagon went as it searched out new ways to train its troops in the late 1990s.

The idea of killing people with high powered, automatic weapons while in the comfort of one’s own home (or in one’s “home district,” as it is here) would seem to be a horrifying, if not “unspeakable activity,” but here it is totally and thoroughly domesticated and normalized.

What makes the image all the more disturbing is that, according to his website, Senator Isakson served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966 to 1972.  There is no evidence that this unit ever deployed, nor is there mention of his having served in Vietnam or in combat anywhere else.  But he has been an active and vocal advocate for President Bush’s war strategy from the very beginning.

One can only wonder if his attitude and support for this war would be different if he were to have experienced a “real one,” in the trenches, rather than a “virtual one” at a place rather like the local mall.

John Louis Lucaites is Professor of Rhetoric and Public Culture in the department of communication and culture at Indiana University. John, along with Robert Hariman, are co-authors of the newly released No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, and the blog No Caption Needed.

(image: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post.  Fort Benning, Georgia. August 2007.


They arent wearing earplugs because those weapons arent loaded.

must have been some kind of electronic screen thingy

geez, you can almost hear those old geezers going ratatatatat. kapow, kapow.


What interests me particularly is the depth of field and "focus" of the photograph. The stern look of the sergeant in front of the gleeful commander is particularly disturbing. Couple that with the other 'suit and tie' acting like he's gunning insurgents from a Humvee and you have a powerful piece of 'hey, war is awesome!', except that reality settles in when you (if the MSM actually showed us true images) see real blood, real death, real disfigurement, real sacrifice, real torture, real fascism and real F'd up problems that really can't be solved in a peaceful manner.

Let's hope the American mental health services improve soon because we are going to be dealing with a "surge" of returning soldiers that have participated in a conflict far more physically harsh and deadly than we have seen in the past twenty years.

what got me in this slide show was his kissing the woman ...are all these old republicans that hard up? well, is`t it a bit inappropriate?
i guess it`s their last shot at playing "army"...when will the adults be back in charge?

True or not, it’s often been said that bringing the reality of the Vietnam War onto TV screens in America’s living rooms helped feed the anti-war movement. In contrast, Americans experienced the Gulf War fighting exactly as if they were watching the UNreality of a video game. Exactly! I’ve always been convinced that that played a significant role in making both the public and elected officials cluelessly complacent about following the lawless cowboy back to the desert. And now the cowboy and the news media are bringing us deja vu all over again, this time focused on Iran.

What was the name of that female indie band in the 80's with the song whose chorus went, "If you can't get a hard-on get a gun?"

Probably what leads to much of the PTSD is when our unprepared troops actually see someone shot or blown up for the first time.

Perhaps the good Senator ought to visit his local trauma center instead.

Would it be considered right to do to mandate politicians fight as they "patriotically" bid others to do?
In the reality, they carry on pretense.
The photo is a big boys' play initiation!

Of course there no real blood, and you don't see the .50 cal on the background slicing people in half from a half a mile away. Oh no, no stench, no blood, no tears...

One would think that war is bitchin awesome or something like that, yeah...something like that...

I don't think the senator is an experienced rifleman, his left hand is crossed over in front of his mouth to rest his cheek on so he won't feel the hard composite gunstock on his rosy, soft jowls. As a combat vet, I know, if you actually fired that gun and felt the recoil, your arm moves back with the gun while your face stays immobile and that crossed arm would bust your mouth wide open against your teeth. Trust me, that prone firing stance is ridiculous.

But this game room for geezers is a good example of why we have a $467 billion annual military spending budget.

The saturation of color in this photo pulls you into the "action." But it turns nasty when you look around the room and realize what's going on. That senator looks like he's got a woody with his face buried in the gun. The old guys standing behind them know exactly what's going on and they know how to get their budget for next year. It's the equivalent of lining up hookers for the visiting politicians (or rent boys, if they're republican). What are the chances that senator is going to vote to pull any troops out of Iraq? Of course, he probably wouldn't have anyway. It's that attitude of 'gee, ain't war some fun?' that enables gray-haired men to send the young to their deaths. It's all too easy for them. Maybe Nader has a point when he says that if congress votes for war, all their eligible children should be sent over there, along with all those of the administration.

white. men. shooting up. no targets = consequences.

ref : “One can only wonder if his attitude and support for this war would be different if he were to have experienced a “real one,” in the trenches, rather than a “virtual one” at a place rather like the local mall.[?]

What a wimpy, passive-tensed rhetorical question = conclusion, Professor Lucaites.

try : The Senator would not be such an avid advocate of the American invasion and subesequent military occupation of IRAQ were he to actually feel the recoil burden of his heavy weapon, and that sickening rush of shame as the screams of the man he has just shot pierce all pretense : his epiphany, as so many soldiers have experienced throughout history ~ is that in the horrifyingly real death of his enemy, he is surreally reborn, and forever remembered as his brother."

...One can only wonder if we wouldn't have such wimpy rhetorical question = conclusions by our wise men, if our Professors, progressive pundits had the courage for non passive-tense outrage : that rage wrought by actual contact with real urban 'East Side' deprivation, and/or combat violence?

-MG counterguerilla corps w/Ranger Airborne; Ft. Benning, '68~'69

Monsieur Gonzo: Touche. Your point is well taken. We all do what we can, though I will certainly try to do better.

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