shirt warns everyone of the all too common danger of falling bombs,
but it is primarily directed at those of us living in the US because
we as a people realize perhaps least of any people that we are vulnerable
to aerial bombardment.* People across the world share many things
in common, though nationalist pride and hatred often prevent them
from realizing this fact. One thing we share is that we are all
collateral damage waiting to happen. Bombs dropped will break the
bones and burn the flesh of any human beings that they fall on regardless
inspiration for this t-shirt design originated from a construction
sign that I saw at a construction site during the US bombing of
Serbia. At the time, I was dating a woman who is Serbian in ethnicity
but who had become a US citizen. She told me of how her friends
and family who were still living in Serbia during the bombing campaign
were confused and angered at the American bombing that targeted
and killed hundreds of Serbian civilians. They started wearing a
target symbol on t-shirts and hats to demonstrate that they knew
they were targets. They boldly (and seemingly masochistically) thumbed
their noses at the American bombing and held rock concerts in open
fields with the bombing campaign in full force.
hearing this from the woman who I was dating, I was at first confused
as to why these Serbian people would be so audacious and reckless
with their lives by putting themselves so near to harms way and
in a seemingly light and mocking manner. Then it hit me and I understood
that they felt helpless with a dictatorial leader repressing them
on one side and a ruthless military power attacking them on the
other. They could do nothing to put themselves in harm's way because
the powers on both sides of them had placed them there already.
So they resisted their helplessness in the only way that they could,
by embracing it in mocking defiance.
I then saw the construction sign days later, I was struck by its
message: "WARNING: Men Working Above." This sign perfectly
described and mirrored the situation of the Serbian civilians. My
intention for shifting the meaning of the phrase "WARNING:
Men Working Above" by inserting a bomber's silhouette in my
t-shirt design in place of the hard-hatted man's silhouette in the
original sign's design is to point out the absurdity and obscenity
of modern warfare by using macabre mockery similar to that used
by Serbian civilians during the US bombardment against them.
this shirt is intended to convey and indict
modern society for reaching such a grotesque point where aerial
bombardment has become mundane. Men working above regularly drop
bombs on targets known to contain or likely to contain human beings,
both military and civilian. It's a casual affair these days** it
seems: punch in on the time clock, get a cup of coffee, yawn a couple
times, stretch, climb into a bomber, zoom around in the clouds,
and drop some bombs (usually from a height where it's not possible
to even see the people who may be panicking and screaming before
being killed, nor those who survive and continue to scream and panic
for the rest of their lives). It's an everyday routine for bomber
pilots these days. It might even get boring.
sign appearance helps to get this point across. "Watch your
step, don't turn right on red... oh and watch out for falling bombs."
Street signs exist to communicate information to people about events
that happen frequently or rules that are permanent. Aerial bombardment
is a frequent event and war is a permanent state of affairs for
humanity it seems -- specifically with the US, which finds itself
in the midst of an open-ended (permanent) war as declared by the
US president George W. Bush.
The design also
addresses the misuse of the slogan "support the troops"
by demagogues who attempt to use circular reasoning to justify the
war itself by reminding us that it's "our boys" over there,
and they are just doing their job (ie. "working").
the phrase "WARNING: Men Working Above" on this shirt
can also be taken in another sense: there are men working above
us in government. That is, there are men working above us in a hierarchy
of power and control. The consequences of the actions or inaction
of these men and women working above us can be dangerous and deadly.
Their ability to order the use of lethal force against us and others
should never be overlooked or pooh-poohed. We must always do our
part as citizens and question authority (as Benjamin Franklin implored
every citizen to do) and hold those in power accountable.
live in a democracy, but these men and women in government make
decisions for us against our will often times. To be fair, sometimes
government in the US does go along with the will of the people in
a democratic fashion. There are truly some vestiges of democracy
in the US, mostly at the local level. But, on the issue of war (and
many others), it seems clear that we have no choice in the matter
whatsoever. We will be sent off to die for causes in which we don't
believe, and people will be killed in our name without our blessing.
We have seen this happen time and again. When we have no choice
in such ultimate issues as war -- which can unleash consequences
ranging from the death of a few US citizens to the death of our
entire people and country (yes our own total annihilation is a possible
result of us engaging in war, though it sometimes seems remote)
-- then what is it all worth? We don't have control of our destiny
when this is the case. We have control in some areas of life, but
in many of the most important areas the people have no institutional
power recognized by leaders like Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.
men working above us in corporate hierarchies exert perhaps the
greatest control over the daily lives of most Americans. Forget
government for a moment. The majority of the waking and productive
hours of most Americans' lives are lived while laboring for corporations
that don't even pretend to be democratic in their operations. The
policies of corporations are more relevant in people's lives than
government or laws because people experience them directly and tangibly
on a more consistent, near daily basis.
is a bit ironic that people in the US, the country that has probably
dropped more bombs than any other in history, don't fully realize
the human toll that those bombs have taken. Though culture in the
US, from video games and movies to news media, is dripping with
bombs and carnage, the subject is usually dealt with in a dehumanized
way: treating the dead as numbers rather than once breathing beings
just as human as any American. Either that, or as human beings that
live far away, and are therefore not quite like us. I guess that's
part of the reason the US continues to lead the world in bomb dropping.
Even after finally getting a taste of the carnage wrought on civilians
by aerial attack on September 11th, the US Government has redoubled
its bombardment efforts, first leveling the already
leveled Afghanistan, then re-leveling the already leveled Iraq, and killing thousands
of civilians in both.
just the last ten years the US Government has dropped bombs on countries
on at least three of seven continents... Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
Sudan, and Serbia come to mind readily.
** I draw some distinction between bomber pilots and
the government officials that give them their orders, the latter
of which are ultimately responsible for the bombing of civilians.
Additionally, I allow that most bomber pilots from World War II
did not take the bombing that they were engaged in lightly since
the US mainland was actually under threat of attack from the Axis
powers during that war. But, these days, propaganda not withstanding,
it is much less credible that the US mainland is in actual danger
of being attacked by the military of another state. Stateless groups
do provide a credible threat of attack as was made clear on September
11th. But, it is not clear how war against countries not responsible
for those attacks (Iraq and Afghanistan) is justifiable, especially
considering the number of civilian casualties and mortalities resulting,
but also when considering international law regarding aggressive,
unprovoked war. Lynching a man who did not commit the crime will
not prevent the actual criminal from committing more crimes. But,
it likely will inspire friends and others who can relate to the
victim of the lynching to retaliate against the lynch mob.
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