The following is a series of extracts from Laura Powell’s chapter, “Glorification of the Military in Popular Culture and the Media,” published in Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism (Montreal: Alert Press, 2014), pp. 167-184:
Overview: Laura Powell argues that while our military members are generally perceived as heroes, this romanticized perception of the military is more damaging than it is helpful. The mainstream media are part of the problem, Powell shows, as news coverage of conflicts is often incomplete or wrong, and based on an idealized version of the military as an unstoppable humanitarian force, while failing to discuss the terrifying realities of war. The Pentagon-Hollywood union also helps propagate this distorted view of the military. Perpetuating this view of the military works to disadvantage the men and women affected by PTSD as a result of their deployments and, Powell argues, attracts potential recruits who may not be aware of the dangers associated with enlisting. In some respects then, Laura Powell is furthering this seminar’s long-standing interest in “militainment”.
Every day, images of the military are seen, whether through television shows, movies, the news, or recruitment ads. The tendency to portray the military and its members as unstoppable forces is prevalent in all forms of media. Is this tendency based on an accurate representation? The Pentagon has been working with Hollywood film producers for decades, in what is considered to be a mutually beneficial relationship through which the Department of Defense gets professional filmmakers to portray the military in the best possible light. Hollywood producers who agree to bring the modifications necessary to their films in order to get the Pentagon’s approval, are granted access to millions of dollars’ worth of military personnel and equipment for use in their productions. This relationship perpetuates the pristine image of the military as seen by media audiences worldwide and thus attempts to block a view of the darker side of the armed forces.
This pristine image in turn reinforces the idea that “service” men and women are unstoppable heroes in camouflage. The men and women who lost their lives overseas are welcomed home as heroes, yet those who are injured, either physically or mentally, are not awarded that same honour. In reality, when those injured return, they are more likely to be seen as broken people, unlikely to be able to resume their normal work, and many get discharged. While they may not perceive themselves as heroes, the knowledge that others expect them to be untouchable may deter service members from getting help if they are affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which in turn results in the misreporting of occurrences of the disorder. For those brave enough to attempt to take control of their lives and stop living with PTSD, there is another obstacle in the way—clinicians. In order to make themselves look good with fewer cases of PTSD, or to save money on treatment, the Department of Defense ordered clinicians to misdiagnose the disorder.
At every turn, military members are asked to live up to unreasonable expectations, and, when they cannot meet them, they are stigmatized because of mental health issues. Thinking of men and women in military uniform as heroes is more damaging than not thinking anything of them at all. It is time to acknowledge the dark side of military conflict and the potential dangers one may face if one chooses to enlist.
Edited by Maximilian C. Forte
Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 2014
Hard Cover ISBN 978-0-9868021-5-7
Paperback ISBN 978-0-9868021-4-0