So why did you do a painting on Top Gun?
Well, I love the movie itself as a brilliant inspiration of why young men join the Air Force: to be a bad ass, serve your country, save the world, be a hero and win the girl. It has many classical elements from the early days of flight like stunts pulled and the elite status of a pilot vs. the rest of the armed services. Additionally, there is a fairly good plot of bad boy trying to redeem his father’s reputation, challenge of conquering the girl, having logic vs. hands-on knowledge challenge, overcoming the trial of a close friend’s death and getting battle ready to serve after tragedy. The interesting part of the logical analysis vs. the pilot experience comes from the early days of flight, where the US military was studying air flow and taking statistics, but not flying while the inventors created the air craft, but did not understand why it worked. Another great feature was that in reality some of the best air pilots are completely fearless as the trait that defines the true ace pilots vs. conservative pilots that never shoot much down.
What made you put an atomic blast in the photo?
Originally, I was just going to focus on the loss of pilot status from actual jet pilots and bombers to just using drones. I had planned to have “Top Drone” in Top Gun lettering. Currently, the US services are on target to phase out military pilots for drones in the next 20 years, which I found shocking. Although it would allow taller pilots to fly the drones, the real excitement for a pilot is flying jets vs. drones. But I thought of that problem as basically only about the pilots vs. the bigger controversy of how pilots are used in real combat.
They have about 3 basic divisions: bombers, surveillance and combat pilots with some overlap on the rolls. All of these have been taken away from humans to computers. First we had nuclear bombers and then transitioned to missiles. Second, we had surveillance pilots replaced by satellite and now drones. Third, we have combat pilots, which are slowly being switched to drones as well.
I kept going back to the relevance to the general populace, which is how these weapons and pilots are used by the government. This is really a controversy or can be depending on your viewpoint and point in time. So I scrapped the original Top Drone idea for the larger picture of US pilots dropping the first and second atomic bombs ever on a civilian population.
So why use Tom Cruise as a Top Gun pilot?
Well, I am a child of the 1980s with the continual threat of nuclear annihilation from the USSR vs. the US. This was a very real threat at the time, which is one reason that Top Gun was so vivid and relevant as a movie. Here was a Top Gun pilot acting recklessly. If he had been a bomber, we might have had a nuclear war. It really goes down to how well-trained the US Airforce is to respond only under political control and at the same time the political mindset a US government is in when confronted in possible battles. I think that Top Gun just symbolized the Cold War threat in terms people can relate to better than the daunting atomic blast and many parties involved in the real event.
Has there been irresponsible war propaganda used before?
In my painting, I took many of the vintage posters that were actually promoted by various countries to go to war and to win the war. War is so much about how you sell and brand the war to the public that has to sacrifice its sons and daughters for their country. I also threw in some modern headlines and posters about 9/11 and how that war was sold as well. Very similar formats and themes repeat.
Do you think that the Japanese put themselves in a position to be bombed so massively?
Definitely, if you look at the feel of the US after 1942, the US populace had no sympathy for Japan and were willing to do whatever it took to get revenge. The US government even rounded up Japanese-Americans into internal camps to avoid spying and sabotage, which led to many US civilians being stripped of property in fire sales or appropiation. So the US entered the war and ultimately took the decision to step up the bombing of Japan to nuclear weapons. It was thought by the US generals and Truman that the bombing would shorten the war at least a few months and avoid a D-day type invasion like in Normandy. They estimated to have “saved” 300,000 US soldiers from dying in combat.
Do you think that the US will fully apologize for the two droppings of the atomic bombs?
I think that some of the leadership were regretful over the years as they had time to process the result and terrible infliction the bombs had on civilians. That said, in the moment noone in the US felt sorry for Japan after Peal Harbor.
The challenge I think lays with future generations of Americans to make amends with this terrible bombing of a civilian population despite the attack on Pearl Harbor. That was one of the reasons for the painting to frame it in today’s terminology that we can understand its impact decades later. Additionally, it is important to understand why this happened as the US is standing off against North Korea and Iran developing their own nuclear weapons.
Why use other modern symbols in the painting if it was about Hiroshima?
Again, it goes back to you have to package a view in today’s symbols. For example, I have Hello Kitty in the background. If there was a was war for Japan, they would likely put Hello Kitty on the planes as in WWII, the US put popular Disney characters like Daffy, Pluto and pin-up girls on planes to personalize the planes and take their mind off the tragic task at hand and possible death each time flying. Another image I used was the Obama campaign symbol.
Why use Obama in this type of painting? He was definitely way after WWII.
True, Obama has nothing to do with WWII at all. He is the current US president, representing current thought on the use of Air Force at war. Obama was responsible for the decision to step up drone bombings, totaling 350 currently, in Afganistan and Pakistan and now currently using the drones to aid French bombings in Africa. Additionally, during the recent CIA director confirmation of Brennan, Brennan would not answer if Obama could outright kill a US citizen by drone. Additionally, Eric Holder, the Attorney General agreed that Obama has the right to kill US citizens by drones inside the US. So this controversy definitely gives you food for thought on the wise use of the Air Force by US politicians against its own civilians during a time of war.
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