Hummer owners are proud owners; why else would you own one? It’s easy to single them out for criticism: the vehicles obstruct other drivers, waste fuel, and punish the environment while signaling dominance. That’s unfair in one sense, however, for such wretched excess is true of many SUVs and other vehicles as well. (If you do want to slam a Hummer, you might enjoy going here or here.) And some Hummer owners really do know how to have fun behind the wheel. This shot from the photo gallery at GMHummer.com says “Took me three hours to clean this!!!”
Was worth every minute, we can assume, and there are worse ways to get dirty. As the new Jeep SUV ad campaign says, “Have Fun Out There.” So what’s the problem?
I want to suggest that Hummers are one small–ok, not so small–part of a larger problem, which is the domestication of war. The more that the equipment of war is packaged for retail consumption, from fatigues to Hummers, the easier it is to think that war is not much different that tearing around the desert for an afternoon. The Hummer is exhibit A because it is a civilian version of the military Humvee (technically a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) which got its boost in the domestic market following the first Gulf war. Since then, SUVs have militarized the streets–industry research discovered early on that a primary motive for buying them was to purchase a sense of security. As a result, it becomes easier to assume not only that our streets are dangerous, but that other dangerous streets are not much different from ours. The process can work in the other direction as well: when we see soldiers in Iraq drinking bottled water while staring into laptops, it can seem that they’re at school or work like anyone else.
The terrible lie beneath this superficial continuity was brought home to me when I saw this photograph in the Sunday New York Times Magazine:
This Humvee had driven over an I.E.D. (improvised explosive device). As it was carrying a colonel who survived the blast, it probably was pretty well armored. Even so, a fair amount of luck was involved: the bomb wasn’t too big, the blast caught the back of the vehicle, and no one was riding there at the time. This is just another day in Iraq–the story reports that every time this unit leaves their base they have “contact” with the enemy. In the real war, the road really is a very dangerous place. And it’s going to take more than three hours to clean his one up.
New York Times photograph by Benjamin Lowy.