- Cinema's Military Industrial Complex ed. by Haidee Wasson and Lee Grieveson, and: Through the Crosshairs: War, Visual Culture and the Weaponized Gaze by Roger Stahl
On August 13, 2018, in Fort Drum, New York, US President Donald J. Trump signed H.R. 5515, otherwise known as the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019. Named in honor of US Senate Committee on Armed Services chair John McCain, the legislation not only funded the national defense for fiscal year 2019 but also boosted military pay by 2.6 percent, the "largest [hike] in nine years," Trump reported.1 Not surprisingly, Trump bragged that his signing of the bill would "increase the size and strength of our [the US] military … replace aging tanks, aging planes and ships with the most advanced and lethal technology ever developed."2 Budget increases for the Department of Defense (DoD) [End Page 186] are nothing new. Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, DoD spending surged dramatically.3 Trump and his allies, however, utilized the NDAA's authorization to criticize President Obama and his administration's supposed (financial and ideological) mistreatment of the US Armed Services, arguing the NDAA strengthened an old, depleted, and weak military. In effect, the signing of the NDAA very publicly affirmed the military as one of the United States' most important and powerful institutions.
But what roles did cinema play in the military apparatus beyond its predictable function of entertaining military personnel? And how did the military strategically weaponize filmic technology and viewing practices during World War II, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, the War on Terror, and beyond? Two new books explore the histories of cinema's deep entanglement with the military-industrial complex. The edited collection Cinema's Military Industrial Complex and Through the Cross-hairs provide a refreshingly rich perspective on the ways film and film technology have served the military's diverse institutional needs.
Both books ground their examinations of the military's dynamic relationship to cinema and their analyses of the weaponized gaze in historical context. Contributors to Cinema's Military Industrial Complex "combine multiple vectors of analysis in order to keep both the specific uses of cinema and the broad logics and dynamics of the role and function of the military in play together," all of which underscores the intertwining histories of the military and cinema.4 Likewise, Roger Stahl historicizes the gradual melding between the camera and weapons of war in his introduction. Indeed, Stahl's brief genealogical sketch—one that extends as far back as the early seventeenth century—performs the necessary historical and theoretical task of "soften[ing] up the target, to clear the conceptual way for the case studies" that he offers throughout the book.5 Nevertheless, Cinema's Military Industrial Complex and Through the Crosshairs are decidedly different.
A critical component of Cinema's Military Industrial Complex is that it views cinema less as commercial entertainment and more as a complex of technologies, industrial strategies of representation, and exhibition spaces. Contributors to the volume do not pay particular attention to Hollywood movies or cinematic representations of the military. Instead, their innovative essays expand on what Charles Acland and Haidee Wasson have described as "useful cinema," a concept that views film and filmic technologies as "a tool that is useful, a tool that makes, persuades, instructs, demonstrates, and does something."6 The book explores the military's direct utilization of cinema and cinema's role in advancing American policies, alliances, and geopolitical interests. [End Page 187]
The breadth and scope of Cinema's Military Industrial Complex is, I would argue, one of its strengths. Rather than focusing on a particular conflict or narrow definition of military cinema, contributors survey a series of subjects that open out in different, albeit interconnected, directions and reorient our...