The Last Good War

US missile batteries. Gulf War, 1991.

It has a triumphalist feel about it. Put Wagner on the stereo, call up the image, and you’re in an episode from Apocalypse Now. Well, not really. But you get the idea. Artillery rockets, fired by dozens of mobile launchers, screaming across the Saudi sky. It’s a great piece of agitprop. You could almost see it in an Elks Lodge.

In all seriousness, there aren’t enough studies of military-commissioned artwork. These two paintings, courtesy of America’s National Guard, are a great case in point. Who was the audience for this? Do enlisted men really care for such kitsch, or is this something that only officers could love? Show it off to the parents, the Lions Clubs, etc.

US troops, Gulf War. Saudi Arabia, 1991.
US troops, Gulf War. Saudi Arabia, 1991.

The latter of the two images seems more self-conscious, as a though it were a deliberate public relations piece. Here, lost Saudis are given help by US military cops. Did pieces like this get put up in mess halls? Or was this the sort of artwork that got reprinted on holiday cards, or framed, and sent home to parents, or the spouses of GIs?

Visit a Marine base town like 29 Palms, and you’ll find plenty of illustrations like these painted on the sides of buildings. Dime stores, shoe shops, groceries. A lot of the imagery is Gulf War-related. Little attests to the conflicts that have followed since. It must be hard to drum up the same kind of artistic inspiration for the War on Terror.


Commentary by Joel Schalit


Illustrations courtesy of The National Guard. Also used in Mitchell Plitnick’s Obama of ArabiaPublished under a Creative Commons license.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.