“I am a warrior, so that my son may be a merchant, so that his son may be a poet.”
― John Quincy Adams
Yep, that’s right—I’m going to talk about why art is important to a bunch of dip-spitting, armor-clad gunslingers. Neck-Snappers and Check-Cashers, yet somehow mediums such as Drawing, Film, Painting, Performing Arts, Photography, and Sculpture are still worthwhile to my rough, sordid group.
Nope, Operator as Fuck has not been hijacked by your zany 9th grade art teacher. No, this isn’t about how finger painting will lessen the ravages of PTSD… Although I suppose it could. And no—this isn’t a coy way to insulate our own artwork and writing from criticism. Bring it [insert bearded smiley face here]
More art needs to come from the gun club for a couple of reasons. I will save the more serious one for last.
First things first. Its fun, especially if fleshing out the jaw-dropping individuality that exists in the rank-and-file. Our world is full of vibrant, complex personalities—imprudent tattoos and Superman boxers under the flight suits.
However, despite the rich pool of characters; genuine creativity and self-expression aren’t exactly nurtured in the military, and for some tried-and-true reasons. Most institutions—at least ones coming with some type of uniform, which is most of them— function by the sacrifice of the Self, a characteristic run out of town to insulate the group ideology of military units. So it’s no dig on the military world, just a realization: creativity and individuality are generally stifled while in it.
But, come on, we all know the individuality exists, often in stark contrasts. It would amaze me at times the diversity in a team; an Atheist, a born-again Christian, a diehard Conservative Republican next to a guy so Liberal he’d make PETA board members look like personal chefs for The Nuge.
All of them, from the eyes of the casual spectator, look exactly alike and presumably are motivated to serve the same purpose. But we know the truth. At the end of the day we’re quite different, and it’s fulfilling and fun as hell to express yourself in a medium you feel is worth your time. If, of course, that makes something move in your pants. If you’re not into any of this, then no harm no foul and stay with what does make something move in said pants.
But, perhaps more important than a future Cubism painting, depicting the headshot you took after pounding a Nalgene full of Cell/Nitro Tech—censorship is up our collective asses.
Art actually requires a fierce (re)surging of the Self, and in today’s society, hell-bent on strangling the life out of everything deemed remotely edgy or offensive, it’s needed more than ever. There’s an issue, and it’s dead center in the backyard of our own community. The military figure has been exploited and made a caricature more than possibly any other demographic to cross a desk.
I know, I know. . . bigger issues. But hear me out. How large is the audience for military books and movies? Huge, right. Now how many works in recent years have been shallow, one dimensional, politically motivated, or just exaggerated to the point of masturbation? I have my own answer to that question, and I’d be willing to wager your answer isn’t too far off.
Taking it out further, to the 1000 yard line;
This handling of the veteran image with soft gloves (ya know, the greatest generation cliches without ever really addressing anything that may have a bite) could ultimately just be an appendage extending from a much larger body; the emergence of — what I once heard them referred to as — the Neo-Liberal Thought Police. Yep, those guys; muffling the human spirit under the banner of preventing emotional discomfort in all forms of expression. If you’re curious and want to check out some peculiar examples of this infection (especially in academia), trying to round off all life’s hard edges, open Door #1, Door #2, Door #3, and of course Door #4.
Make no mistake about it, certain rights are being infringed upon, in their own little insidious ways—not just by the Right’s Legion of Decency—whose conservative complaints about provocative art are as old as time (hip-wiggling decline of civilization, slippery slope to godlessness, insert fig leaf, etc.), but now from the Left too.
It’s coming from both sides.
Well, what kind of military sub-culture outfit would we be if we didn’t find places to plug quotes from the Man-Eater Hall of Fame? So, in the words of none other than the late great Chesty Puller:
And I say fire at will.
Anyone whoever worked in Iraq or Afghanistan will attest if more authentic narratives about what goes on in combat zones, rear areas, and barracks rooms were actually depicted via paint, book, or film—both the Far Left and the Far Right would come to blow a gasket—and for their own predictable reasons.
But, Mr. Blonde, people need their heroes, maintain the facades. Silent professionalism (the most misunderstood military slogan since Every Marine a Rifleman or Army of One), blah blah—
You forged your identity! You suffered the boredom, the uncertainty, the dead friends, and possibly a few pieces of hot flying metal. It is your identity, your story, your experiences. Express them to the world as pleases you.
Are there bigger issues at hand? Of course, and there always will be. But. . . recalling the largest personalities I ever met, “Front Toward Enemy” patch on the front of their plate carriers, with jokes that had the power to somehow leap out of decimated houses and crawl out coffins. . . It sure’d be a blast to see some of that hit the arteries.
Author’s note: cover art provided by a fellow hitter at Taylor White Art