Fashioning Resistance to Militarism

NPP Pressroom

Foreign Policy in Focus
Christine Ahn and Gwyn Kirk

In the silver lining to the devastating economic crisis, critiques of excessive military spending are now beginning to echo around Capitol Hill and throughout mainstream media. Federal budget priorities — and the billions of dollars tied up in the military budget — are coming under much wider scrutiny. For years, the National Priorities Project, WAND (Women's Action for New Directions), and War Resisters League have calculated the tradeoffs for military spending with readable pie charts, diagrams, and interactive websites to educate and empower ordinary people to take part in this policy debate. Yet what all the facts and figures cannot quite crack is the deeply entrenched military mindset that so dominates American society and culture. That's why in May 2005 we worked with the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland, California to stage a popular education project, "Fashion Resistance to Militarism." Professional designers and home dressmakers created eye-catching outfits to deconstruct military policies. We wrote scripts for each runway that were read by a narrator as the models strutted their stuff. An enthusiastic crowd of 450 people convinced us that this unlikely genre is a highly effective way to discuss the militarization of culture in accessible terms and to get the audience thinking about heavy topics like the military budget or sexualized military violence. For all the talk of change, militarism hasn't gone away in the new administration. Despite campaign promises to sit down and talk with U.S. "enemies" and his recent announcement to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2011, President Barack Obama is deploying 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and has announced increases in military spending as well as increases in the overall number of U.S. soldiers and Marines. To expose the subtle ways that militarism creeps into our national budgets, foreign policies, interpersonal relationships, and fashion, we produced another anti-military fashion show for the "Security Without Empire" conference in Washington, DC on February 28, 2009. Here are a few of the outfits we showcased, as described in the scripts we narrated. The Military Budget Christine Ahn designed a two-piece called the "Militarized National Budget." The chic camouflage jacket represents the half of the discretionary federal budget devoted to war, and the skirt shows the other half of the budget allocated to civilian needs. Patterned after a pie chart, the colors on the skirt are blue for health, yellow for energy, red for transportation, and purple for international affairs. Tucked between the pleats of the skirt is more camouflage, representing more military spending: the Veterans Administration sneaks into the health budget, Homeland Security creeps into transportation, NASA and nuclear weapons research is buried in energy, and international affairs money trains foreign troops. But that's not the full story. As modeled by Ellen-Rae Cachola (of Women for Genuine Security), underneath the military budget is a tank top featuring a corporate logo flag to show how billions of "defense" dollars go to Pentagon contractors, like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman. And there's more. Hidden underneath the Uncle Sam hat is a long white ribbon representing the $700 billion-plus supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the United States doesn't have the money to finance these exorbitant expenditures, other nations — notably China but also Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore — are bankrolling these wars. Ellen wears a China cap stuffed under patriotic Uncle Sam to represent the foreign lenders. Next time, this outfit will need some alteration, as Obama announced to a recent joint session of Congress that he'll include these wars in the military budget: "For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price."