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


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


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

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at