Destruction and Delight: World War II Combat Photography and the Aesthetic Inscription of Masculine Identity

Citation:

Vettel-Becker, Patricia. 2002. “Destruction and Delight: World War II Combat Photography and the Aesthetic Inscription of Masculine Identity.” Men and Masculinities 5 (1): 80–102.

Author: Patricia Vettel-Becker

Abstract:

During World War II, the American public was inundated with photographs of war. This article examines the iconography of war as revealed in photographs from the Pacific arena, identifying four primary motifs: the transformation of boys into warrior men, the fetishization of weaponry, the spectacle of death, and the quest to penetrate and dominate nature. War is a territorial game played by men to enact dominance, a social performance that inscribes gender identities on human bodies. War, like masculinity, is predicated on the subjugation of the feminine, which is encoded in the body and territory of the enemy, an inscription even more extreme when the enemy is of another race. These photographs enact the play of domination and subjugation through the imagery of impenetrability and rapability, thus contributing to the propagandistic construction of the enemy and extending the voyeuristic pleasures of domination to those not able to experience it firsthand.

Keywords: masculinity, combat photography, World War II, Edward Steichen, violence, atomic bomb

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarism, Race, Sexual Violence, Rape, Weapons /Arms Regions: Americas, North America, Asia Countries: United States of America

Year: 2002

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