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Original Political T-Shirts

Why I made the t-shirt "WARNING Men Working Above"
[Yeah! an essay! I love to read!]

Watch for falling bombs. YOU too can become collateral damage!

I made the t-shirt "WARNING: Men Working Above" because men literally are working above us everyday in warplanes carrying and dropping bombs and other munitions, and more often in ordinary airplanes that can be used as bombs themselves (as we saw on 9/11/2001). We in the United States have encountered almost no bombing from the sky, whereas most of the rest of the world knows well that men are working above them in the sky threatening to and actually dropping bombs that maim and kill--not to mention the psychological fallout unleashed on the survivors of aerial bombardment.

This shirt warns everyone of the all too common danger of falling bombs, but it is primarily directed at those of us living in the US because we as a people realize perhaps least of any people that we are vulnerable to aerial bombardment.* People across the world share many things in common, though nationalist pride and hatred often prevent them from realizing this fact. One thing we share is that we are all collateral damage waiting to happen. Bombs dropped will break the bones and burn the flesh of any human beings that they fall on regardless of nationality.

The inspiration for this t-shirt design originated from a construction sign that I saw at a construction site during the US bombing of Serbia. At the time, I was dating a woman who is Serbian in ethnicity but who had become a US citizen. She told me of how her friends and family who were still living in Serbia during the bombing campaign were confused and angered at the American bombing that targeted and killed hundreds of Serbian civilians. They started wearing a target symbol on t-shirts and hats to demonstrate that they knew they were targets. They boldly (and seemingly masochistically) thumbed their noses at the American bombing and held rock concerts in open fields with the bombing campaign in full force.

After hearing this from the woman who I was dating, I was at first confused as to why these Serbian people would be so audacious and reckless with their lives by putting themselves so near to harms way and in a seemingly light and mocking manner. Then it hit me and I understood that they felt helpless with a dictatorial leader repressing them on one side and a ruthless military power attacking them on the other. They could do nothing to put themselves in harm's way because the powers on both sides of them had placed them there already. So they resisted their helplessness in the only way that they could, by embracing it in mocking defiance.

When I then saw the construction sign days later, I was struck by its message: "WARNING: Men Working Above." This sign perfectly described and mirrored the situation of the Serbian civilians. My intention for shifting the meaning of the phrase "WARNING: Men Working Above" by inserting a bomber's silhouette in my t-shirt design in place of the hard-hatted man's silhouette in the original sign's design is to point out the absurdity and obscenity of modern warfare by using macabre mockery similar to that used by Serbian civilians during the US bombardment against them.

Further, this shirt is intended to convey and indict modern society for reaching such a grotesque point where aerial bombardment has become mundane. Men working above regularly drop bombs on targets known to contain or likely to contain human beings, both military and civilian. It's a casual affair these days** it seems: punch in on the time clock, get a cup of coffee, yawn a couple times, stretch, climb into a bomber, zoom around in the clouds, and drop some bombs (usually from a height where it's not possible to even see the people who may be panicking and screaming before being killed, nor those who survive and continue to scream and panic for the rest of their lives). It's an everyday routine for bomber pilots these days. It might even get boring.

The street sign appearance helps to get this point across. "Watch your step, don't turn right on red... oh and watch out for falling bombs." Street signs exist to communicate information to people about events that happen frequently or rules that are permanent. Aerial bombardment is a frequent event and war is a permanent state of affairs for humanity it seems -- specifically with the US, which finds itself in the midst of an open-ended (permanent) war as declared by the US president George W. Bush.

The design also addresses the misuse of the slogan "support the troops" by demagogues who attempt to use circular reasoning to justify the war itself by reminding us that it's "our boys" over there, and they are just doing their job (ie. "working").

Additionally, the phrase "WARNING: Men Working Above" on this shirt can also be taken in another sense: there are men working above us in government. That is, there are men working above us in a hierarchy of power and control. The consequences of the actions or inaction of these men and women working above us can be dangerous and deadly. Their ability to order the use of lethal force against us and others should never be overlooked or pooh-poohed. We must always do our part as citizens and question authority (as Benjamin Franklin implored every citizen to do) and hold those in power accountable.

We supposedly live in a democracy, but these men and women in government make decisions for us against our will often times. To be fair, sometimes government in the US does go along with the will of the people in a democratic fashion. There are truly some vestiges of democracy in the US, mostly at the local level. But, on the issue of war (and many others), it seems clear that we have no choice in the matter whatsoever. We will be sent off to die for causes in which we don't believe, and people will be killed in our name without our blessing. We have seen this happen time and again. When we have no choice in such ultimate issues as war -- which can unleash consequences ranging from the death of a few US citizens to the death of our entire people and country (yes our own total annihilation is a possible result of us engaging in war, though it sometimes seems remote) -- then what is it all worth? We don't have control of our destiny when this is the case. We have control in some areas of life, but in many of the most important areas the people have no institutional power recognized by leaders like Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

Finally, men working above us in corporate hierarchies exert perhaps the greatest control over the daily lives of most Americans. Forget government for a moment. The majority of the waking and productive hours of most Americans' lives are lived while laboring for corporations that don't even pretend to be democratic in their operations. The policies of corporations are more relevant in people's lives than government or laws because people experience them directly and tangibly on a more consistent, near daily basis.

* It is a bit ironic that people in the US, the country that has probably dropped more bombs than any other in history, don't fully realize the human toll that those bombs have taken. Though culture in the US, from video games and movies to news media, is dripping with bombs and carnage, the subject is usually dealt with in a dehumanized way: treating the dead as numbers rather than once breathing beings just as human as any American. Either that, or as human beings that live far away, and are therefore not quite like us. I guess that's part of the reason the US continues to lead the world in bomb dropping. Even after finally getting a taste of the carnage wrought on civilians by aerial attack on September 11th, the US Government has redoubled its bombardment efforts, first leveling the already
leveled Afghanistan, then re-leveling the already leveled Iraq, and killing thousands of civilians in both.

In just the last ten years the US Government has dropped bombs on countries on at least three of seven continents... Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and Serbia come to mind readily.

** I draw some distinction between bomber pilots and the government officials that give them their orders, the latter of which are ultimately responsible for the bombing of civilians. Additionally, I allow that most bomber pilots from World War II did not take the bombing that they were engaged in lightly since the US mainland was actually under threat of attack from the Axis powers during that war. But, these days, propaganda not withstanding, it is much less credible that the US mainland is in actual danger of being attacked by the military of another state. Stateless groups
do provide a credible threat of attack as was made clear on September 11th. But, it is not clear how war against countries not responsible for those attacks (Iraq and Afghanistan) is justifiable, especially considering the number of civilian casualties and mortalities resulting, but also when considering international law regarding aggressive, unprovoked war. Lynching a man who did not commit the crime will not prevent the actual criminal from committing more crimes. But, it likely will inspire friends and others who can relate to the victim of the lynching to retaliate against the lynch mob.


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