Stealth Fighter Blues

Corso Garibaldi. Torino, October 2013.

11.8 billion Euros is a lot of money these days. Especially in a country like Italy, which is s struggling with the second worst economic crisis in the Eurozone. After Greece, that is. The estimated cost of 90 US-made F-35 stealth fighters, it’s still a lot less than what the Italian government had initially pledged to spend on the project: 16 billion, on 131 aircraft.

The single most expensive fighter plane in history, Italian agreement to purchase the Joint Strike Fighter had been secured during Berlusconi’s tenure. Intended as an F-16 replacement for America and its allies, the 5th generation combat jet has suffered repeat mechanical failures (a recent US government study identifies 363 issues) and is years behind schedule.

Still, the F-35’s supporters insist that the show must go on, and that its future users – including increasingly immiserated foreign clients like Italy – soldier on, as their armed forces will not be able to able to defend themselves appropriately without such advanced equipment. Not even, in light of cheaper, more reliable European alternatives from likes of Saab, and Dassault.

Walking through central Turin last month, after dinner in the immigrant heavy Porta Palazzo neighborhood, I stumbled upon the banner photographed above, hanging outside a building on the busy, pedestrian-only Corso Garibaldi, one of Turin’s busiest commercial thoroughfares. Knowing the aircraft’s back story, I pulled out my iPhone, and took a photograph of it.

Not my favorite shot, I resolved to return later, during daylight hours, and photograph it with my Pentax. (I eventually did.) However, I ended up deciding to use an inferior-looking iPhone shot, for political reasons. Right as I was focusing on the F-35 banner, I started to hear the sounds of a woman begging for money, to buy food. Her wailing, as though an endless loop, was repetitive, and piercing.

Having left my digital field recorder at home (I almost always carry it with me,) I switched to my iPhone’s voice recording software, and captured her, in mono. The second recording of its kind I’ve made in the last year (see Despondent Panhandler) personally, this recording has a different kind of significance. I could not help but relate it to the anti-JSF banner I’d just been photographing, with the same smartphone.

If Italian critics of the F-35 program wanted a great example of the social misery caused by misplaced government priorities, this short moment, in between an anti-defense spending banner, and a starving woman, begging passersby for change, was it. Certainly, the panhandler’s needs were more immediate than the aircraft’s purchase.

Still, it was it’s own comment on misplaced priorities. Not just in Italy, but for all of America’s defense partners, forced with the choice of subsidizing the welfare of an overpaid defense contractor, and the social needs of their citizens.


– Joel Schalit


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