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Air and Space

USA | Saturday, 17 December 2011 | Views [417]

Much has been said of the United State's militarism. Robert Fisk writes of the necessity of any empire – be it Roman or British – to exert power abroad. For domestic political consumption as much as to provide access to raw materials and resources.

The United States is in many ways a martial society. The eagle on the presidential crest clutches arrows as well as an olive branch. The National Museum has an entire wing devoted to war. There are signs and monuments everywhere. Especially here in the capital, Washington DC. Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, The Civil War. WWII. Love our troops. Hate our troops. Support our troops.

The senate recently approved a $662 billion defence bill. In a country where the seats on the Long Island Railroad from JFK Airport to New York City are patched with duct tape and recycled advertising posters.

What is said less often is the state of grace such spending produces. An irresponsible word, grace, when the general outcome of war is death and destruction. But it is there nonetheless, in that handmaiden to the technological war, design.

You see this clearly in the two divisions of the Air and Space Museum, on the Mall and near Dulles Airport. And to a lesser extent at the NRA Firearms Museum near Fair Oaks Mall Virginia

Because they must be efficient and functional in extreme conditions weapons and warplanes are sleekly beautiful and perfectly proportioned. Like seashells or birds in flight. There is nothing out of place in a Heckler & Koch submachine gun. The trigger like a pointed tongue. The safety switch like a nipple or the lobe of an ear.

So too the SR71, X15, Predator Drone. Brancusi comes close with his stretched and elegant forms. Outside, the monumental sculptures by Calder are leaden, flat footed by comparison.

I turn back inside. Towards death and art and science all wrapped in one tight and indivisible bundle.

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