CULTIVATING LIBERALISM
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Pet of the Month
Ship Lust

USS JFK RIP

A militaristic nation isn’t born overnight. The United States may be the most militaristic of all by now (the Pentagon devours more dollars in a year than all militaries of the world combined), but it wasn’t always that way. In the early years of the Republic, a standing military was rightly held in suspicion, if not healthily reviled. That blissful time passed. The military is now the ecumenical church of America even as the usual hypocrisies that attach to any faith shadow this one, too: Americans love their military, they love to cheer and clap uniforms in parades, stick “support our troop” paraphernalia to their luxury hardware, fly those still-creepy-after-all-these-years black and white POW flags and chant their love for the troops at ballgames. Just don’t ask them to join, or pay higher taxes for war, or tolerate images of American soldiers being blown to shreds while ensuring that the pipelines to suburban comforts guzzle on, unclogged. It takes between $20,000 and $40,000 to bribe a new enlistee these days. It takes not a dime to ensure that the public bats neither an eye nor a heart when it comes time for Congress to approve the annual obscenity known as the military budget. For the people it’s an easy way to salve the national conscience: Don’t ask us to sacrifice more than we absolutely have to. In exchange, we’ll just shut up about whatever billions the Pentagon wants.

Still, that duplicitous military mentality takes honing. It’s a constant seduction to keep the culture of camouflage happy and submissive. One such example is the departure, from Atlantic Beach, Florida, of the USS John F. Kennedy, the Navy’s last non-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. (“At sea, the JFK must refuel every three to four days, while nuclear-powered ships can operate for more than 10 years without refueling.”) The ship took to the sea in 1968. It’s now being decommissioned. Atlantic Beach has been its “home.” To residents there, if an Orlando Sentinel story is to be believed, the departure is the unmooring of a friend. The Sentinel splayed the story over three columns on the front page last Friday, starting it with the obligatory anecdote about the good woman who “loves the Navy and the USS John F. Kennedy,” but who won’t go to the decommissioning ceremony because she’ll just “end up crying.” The story refers to the ship as an “ageing warrior,” as “Big John,” and recalls matter-of-factly its Gulf War I deployment, “with its planes dropping more than 3.5 million pounds of explosives.”

In Atlantic Beach, they don’t mind lusting after a machinery of war that drops 3.5 million pounds of explosives on human beings, but Big John forbid that the word “vagina” appear in public there. That’s the ultimate duplicity of lust for things military. People get off on seeing the hardware, watching a Navy ship slice the surf, watching a jet fighter break ear drums. But it’s the destructive power behind it all that drives the desire, that beholds the fawning eye, and the object of desire is ultimately no different than pornography. Except that while standard pornography is by definition static — Penthouse and Hustler may have caused an up tick in carpal tunnel syndrome, but they’ve never killed anyone — military pornography enables the object’s ultimate purpose, which is destruction. (One of the pictures accompanying the carrier story shows the JFK literally in a gauzy late-afternoon light, the kind of signature light of 1980s Penthouse photography. See below.) And story like these in the Sentinel, where the object of desire is virtually deified and spoken of as a monumental, organic creature, as a neighbor, a friend, are the kind of stories that are repeated every day throughout the land whenever the subject turns to the military. The reverential, unquestioning style is always the same. It has that ring of speeches at a Veterans Day ceremony. The layout is always admiring. And for the Pentagon, the result is always satisfying. It’s what makes every budget request for more good-old American know-how at insanity so easy.

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