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Image of the United States Military in the Public Eye

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Image of the United States Military in the Public Eye The United States military has had its ups and downs in popularity with the American public. In World War II, America couldn’t get enough of its soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen. However, during Vietnam, the American public equated its soldiers with the government and the unpopular war. Soldiers were treated with disrespect when they came home, and they were called things such as “baby killers”. Ironically, many of the soldiers during that era were drafted and did not support the war either, but the general public didn’t seem to care. Today, I think the public is back to the days of World War II in terms of support for its troops. This support is shown in many different ways, but I would like to focus on just three visual aspects: symbols, images, and cartoons. The first approach I would like to explore is the use of signs and symbols. According to Berger (2008), “a sign … is anything that stands for something else” (p. 49). He then goes on to explain the three different types of signs: icons, indexes, and symbols. Berger (2008) defines a symbol is something that conventionally means what it represents. There is no logical connection; you must learn the meaning. Several examples include Christianity’s cross, and the Jewish symbol of the Star of David. Automatically the first symbol that comes to mind that shows support for American troops is the yellow ribbon. This symbol can be found on bumper stickers, magnets, tied around trees, attached to clothes by safety pins, on television, and on the internet. Often times it will have “Support the Troops” written on it. For those who do not know the history behind the yellow ribbon, this writing helps people connect the ribbon to the idea of supporting America’s troops. Another symbol that shows support for our troops also shows support for the families of those serving our country overseas. Blue or gold stars on a white banner with a red border signifies that a family has one or more members currently deployed in support of America’s wars. The number of stars on the banner represents the number of family members deployed. The gold star signifies that one of those family members was killed in action. This symbol can be seen in the windows of the families’ residences or businesses. It is a symbol that represents remembrance. The star remains in the window until the family member it represents returns home. As you can see, these symbols are geared towards remembrance. When you see them, you remember that fellow Americans are currently deployed and are in harm’s way. The next visual approach shows more of a sense of celebration, pride, gratitude, and honor. An image is defined by Berger (2008) as “a collection of signs and symbols … [and] a number of other things, including a mental representation we have of something” (p. 61). Images which show the American public supporting its troops include a woman hanging a banner with a blue star in a window, a military parade on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, and a celebration rejoicing the return of soldiers from overseas. Each of these images is full of signs and symbols with their own separate meanings. However, the collective meaning of each image is one of support for the American military. For example, the image of the woman hanging the banner with a single blue star, I think, is one of pride. As I stated before, the banner is a symbol showing that one of her family members is currently deployed. When I look at the woman’s face, I see a hint of worry, but an overwhelming sense of pride. She is placing the banner just so, and it is centered in a large open window. She is telling the world that she is proud to have a husband, son, daughter, or grandchild who is willing to risk their life in defense of others. One of the more popular images when thinking about support for American troops is that of a crowd watching military men and women marching in a parade. First, you are immediately drawn to the precision of the marchers in their military dress and cover. However, it’s when you look at the crowd that you see the support for the troops. Everyone’s gaze is fixated on the marchers, and you can see awe, respect, and pride in their faces. Many of the onlookers are clapping, smiling, whistling, and cheering. Though these things do not naturally mean support, I have learned through life’s experiences that in this context, these acts mean exactly that concept. Other onlookers are waving American flags, and still others are holding a banner that says thank you. Though it is hard to tell from the military bearing of the military men and women marching by, I know from personal experience that they are overwhelmed by a sense of pride and also a sense of gratitude to those cheering them on. Next, we look at the image of a large homecoming celebration for soldiers returning from overseas. A crowd has filled a sports arena, and awestruck soldiers are looking around as they walk in. Signs line the arena saying things like “welcome home”. Your focus is first drawn to the soldier in the bottom right corner and then moves up and left. You see that the soldiers are full of pride with their heads held high and their posture tall and confident. As you scan the crowd, all you see is joy. Just like in the images of the military parades, people are smiling, clapping, waving flags, and cheering. However, I think that the strongest sign in this image showing support for American troops is the number of people present in the stands. There are too many people present to be just family members. I see a whole community showing its support and gratitude to just a few. As you can see, the central themes in all of these images are pride and celebration. There is pride in showing the world that one of your loved ones is deployed. There is pride shown in the soldiers as they march or walk in to an arena filled with supporters. Finally there is pride, joy, and celebration as people cheer for the men and women marching by in uniform, or as they come home from a deployment overseas. The final visual approach features another aspect of showing support for America’s troops – gratitude. Cartoons are a way to express ideas or emotions on paper. Berger (2008) explains that there are two different types of cartoons: humorous and political. He goes on to define political cartoons as cartoons “which make a point about some political situation and which may or may not be funny” (p. 200). The two cartoons I will discuss are definitely not meant to be funny, but rather they show a great sense of gratitude for what the United States military members have done in the past, and what they are doing now. The first cartoon is of Uncle Sam standing before a M-16 stuck in the ground with a helmet resting on top. Uncle Sam has his hot off, and he says “thank you for your service”. Uncle Sam is representing the United States – both the government and the public. The M-16 and helmet is a battlefield burial ground. A service member has paid the ultimate price, and Uncle Sam is thanking the fallen hero with all his heart. Also, because of the setting sun and how Uncle Sam and the battlefield burial seem to be in shadow, you can almost hear “Taps” being played in the background. This cartoon is very powerful and creates a somber mood. Even though the service member has passed on in this cartoon, it still shows support for America’s troops. It is helping its viewers remember the sacrifice so many have made so that the rest of us can enjoy the freedoms we have today. It also shows the military members that they are not the only ones who will never forget their fallen brothers and sisters in arms. The second cartoon is just as powerful as the first. It shows a soldier deployed to the desert with combat near-by. However, instead of a weapon, the soldier is holding a letter from home. Its message is simple, “thank you”, and it is signed by what appears to be a little boy’s handwriting. Some may misinterpret the boy to be the soldier’s son. Instead, to me, it is from someone even more significant. It is from a complete stranger. Not only a stranger, but a young boy. The boy probably doesn’t even know the whole significance of why the soldier is deployed to the Middle East, but yet he still understands that the soldier is doing something special enough to be thanked. Because of that letter, simple message and all, that soldier will be able to hold his head high and carry on with his duties. If he was feeling down at all before he read the letter, his morale has instantly sky-rocketed. The simple gesture of gratitude, in the conditions in which it was received, shows tremendous support for America’s troops. Though these cartoons are simple, I feel that they are the most powerful of all the visual approaches discussed thus far. Though simple, the messages that they convey are very powerful and complex. In conclusion, the signs and symbols, images, and cartoons that I have discussed have successfully sent the message they were created to carry. The American public supports its troops. They may not support the war, but they definitely support their troops. The yellow ribbon and the banner with a blue star are symbols of pride and remembrance. The images of celebration, support, and pride depict how many different signs and symbols work together to show support for our troops. Finally, the cartoons show gratitude for what our military has done and for what they are doing now. Seeing these visual approaches has invoked a strong emotional effect in me. I am a member of the United States military, and I have personally seen the symbols mentioned in this paper. I have marched in many parades, and I have received thank you letters from children who do not personally know me. It almost brings me to tears to know that people care this much. Without support from home, we would not be able to do what we do. I’m sure that these visual approaches also affect many others, and that is ultimately why they effectively demonstrate the American public’s support for its soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen.
Berger, A. A. (2008). Seeing is believing: An introduction to visual communication. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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