America’s “Beautiful” Weapons

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

W.J. Astore

President Trump is hawking weapons in the Middle East.  After concluding a deal with the Saudis for $110 billion in weaponry, he sought out the Emir of Qatar and said their discussions would focus on “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.”

Trump’s reference to American weapons as “beautiful” echoed the recent words of Brian Williams at MSNBC, who characterized images from the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria as “beautiful,” not once but three times.

We can vilify Trump and Williams for seeing beauty in weapons that kill, but we must also recognize Americans love their technology of death.  It’s one big reason why we have more than 300 million guns in America, enough to arm virtually every American, from cradle to grave.

Why do we place so much faith in weapons?  Why do we love them so?

In military affairs, America is especially prone to putting its faith in weapons.  The problem is that often weaponry is either less important than one thinks, or seductive in its promise.  Think of U.S. aerial drones, for example.  They’ve killed a lot of people without showing any decisiveness.

Technology is a rational and orderly endeavor, but war is irrational and chaotic.  Countries develop technology for war, thinking they are adding order and predictability, when they are usually adding just another element of unpredictability while expanding death.

U.S. air power is a great example — death everywhere, but no decisiveness.  Look at Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).  The U.S. obliterated vast areas with high explosive and napalm and Agent Orange, killing millions without winning the war.  The technological image of America today is not stunning cars or clever consumer inventions but rather Predator and Reaper drones and giant bombs like MOAB.

Profligate expenditures on weapons and their export obviously feed America’s military-industrial complex.  Such weapons are sold by our politicians as job-creators, but they’re really widow-makers and life-takers.   Americans used to describe armament makers as “merchants of death,” until, that is, we became the number one producer and exporter of these armaments.  Now they’re “beautiful” to our president and to our media mouthpieces.

We have a strange love affair with weapons that borders on a fetish.  I’ve been to a few military re-enactments, in which well-intended re-enactors play at war.  The guys I’ve talked to are often experts on the nuts and bolts of the military weaponry they carry, but of course the guns aren’t loaded.  It’s all bloodless fun, a “war game,” if you will.

Nowadays real war is often much like a video game, at least to U.S. “pilots” sitting in trailers in Nevada.  It’s not a game to an Afghan or Yemeni getting blown to bits by a Hellfire missile fired by a drone.  For some reason, foreigners on the receiving end of U.S. weaponry don’t think of it as “beautiful.”  Nor do we, when our weapons are turned against us.

Enough with the “beautiful” weapons, America.  Let’s stick to the beauty of spacious skies and amber waves of grain.

12 thoughts on “America’s “Beautiful” Weapons

  1. The beautiful weapons go back to chariots, bow and arrow and catapults. The USA is still fighting WW 2. Massive amounts of fire power will not win these wars we find ourselves entangled in. We have created an enemy that is totally dedicated to their cause. Their numbers maybe small but they have the Western World living on the edge.


  2. Comments by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, reveals a level of clueless thought or as some have suggested a sociopath who values order over all. Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled the scene at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, when the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping was interrupted by the strike on Syria.

    “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”
    As the crowd laughed, Ross added: “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.”
    Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross praised the fact that there were no protesters in Saudi Arabia. He did not see “a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.”

    Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, told CNBC afterwards that Saudi Arabia is among the “most repressive” of free speech in the Middle East, adding: “Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents.”
    I read these comments and thought a profound intellectual vacancy exists here in the mind of Billionaire Wilbur Ross, but then I made a course correction and discovered that place where Ross resides. A place where where extreme military action can be admired (from a distance of course – bravery for this type of person increases the farther away they are from the actual battlefield.) and at the same time place a high value on a society where no dissent is permitted (Saudi Arabia). Is this place called Fascism???


    1. Good points, but I don’t think you need pathology to explain this. Ross is simply a billionaire who wants to keep his place in society. I’m sure he felt quite at home among the rich elders of Saudi society, as did Trump.


  3. “Why do we place so much faith in weapons?  Why do we love them so?”
    Because in essence the large majority of Americans have not evolved beyond the cowboy stage. Until recently Western were 1 of the Americans’ favourite movies: if, as a director you wanted to make a good start or earn some decent money, all you had to do was do a Western, almost irrespective of the quality.


    1. Yes. I’d add: Cowboys — and Indians. There’s usually a “savage” people that needs to be suppressed and “civilized.” Suppression comes with superior firepower through “force multipliers,” whether it’s Colt six-shooters or lever-action rifles of the past or the Hellfire missiles of today.

      It’s a nexus of ideology and technology. The ideas are empowered by the technology, and the technology empowers the ideals. For example, technology lends credence to the idea that we’re “superior” and, in a sense, more civilized because our technology is better. For American troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the peoples there are often seen as benighted, as backward, as savages. I recall talking to a friend stationed in Iraq; “sand people” was a term borrowed from “Star Wars” to describe Iraqis as primitives, as savages.

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  4. Interesting that the aircraft depicted is the A10 “Warthog”, a rare case of a weapon given a name doesn’t evoke power and dominance. For almost all of our mighty armory, the lifetime of an item is spent sitting idle without ever being used before being scrapped, or in intensive use for practice or showing the flag such as our carrier battle groups. Then, there are the weapons that do see action such as the Tomahawk, the Reaper (oh, those lovely names!) and they are deployed thousands of miles from the U.S. on targets that are essentially helpless against them – they are slaughtering tools.

    We have, then, a huge unemployed armory, a very tiny active armory and none of it doing anything remotely connected to defense of the United States, a country threatened by absolutely positively no significant armed force. Your implication that it all has very little to do with practical application and much to do with imagery in the head is to the point. The fact that much money is made from weapons is the real reason they are pushed on us and on other countries, but to put it past we the people, the imagery is the big thing.

    Here is another way weapons, small arms, bring in the dough while causing mayhem elsewhere:


    1. Thanks. Yes, I’ve liked the A-10 since it was designed and fielded beginning in the 1970s. My choice of photo was driven more by all the missiles hung on the A-10. And of course the plane itself is built around its 30mm Gatling gun, which is devastating. I’m not sure if they’re still using depleted uranium rounds, but if so, it’s even more dangerous, not just as a penetrating round, but in the damage it does due to lingering radiation.

      On DU ammo and the (temporary?) suspension of its use against ISIS, see here:


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