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Why a Hummer isn't a Humvee

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.



Why a Hummer isn't a Humvee


16 Responses

  1. A. G. Rud says

    I would love to see a series on the “domestication of war.” This is a powerful entry, and the sentence where this term occurs above is the money quote for me, reinforced by the dialectical reversal of the image mentioned of soldiers sipping water and tapping on laptops. Keep ’em coming!

  2. Hariman the Younger says

    I think it’s worth pointing out that Americans have been doing this sort of domestication for decades. Before Hummer, there was Jeep, which likewise built a brand around converting a vehicle from military workhorse to off-road toy.

    Another thing to draw these two together is the wars that created them were definite American victories. The idea that “this is the vehicle that beat XXXXXX” probably didn’t hurt civilian sales figures.

    In addition to the poor assumptions that you describe so well above, I’d also like to suggest that this reinforces the idea that the military is and should be prepared for whatever new conflict arises. People see the success of the vehicles in one conflict, and assume that it will be just as successful the next time around, whereas the chaotic nature of the battlefield may require a massive overhaul to meet changing tactics and conditions.

  3. stevo says

    Though it is true that they hummer is available to the public the H2 and H3 (which you have shown do not share a single part with the military Humvee. The H2 is built on a suburban chaise and if you have seen the interior of a Humvee and the interior of the H2 they are not in any way similar. The original Hummer is available to the public but has a fairly high price tag, around 125k if i remember correctly. Look at the features in a real humvee made by AM general and compare them to the on sold by GM (with some affiliations with AM) and find that they are in no way similar only by name.

  4. Lucaites says

    Stevo — I’m not sure I get your point. Sure, there is a difference between various versions of the humvee made available to the public, largely as a function of making them commercially available to a larger market. But does this in any way mitigate the point that it contributes to a problematic domestication of war? In fact, I’d argue that it enhances the problem by making it seem AS IF one can own such a vehicle when, of course, they really can’t.

  5. Akunin says

    While I agree that a Hummer is not a Humvee (not even close) your idea of domestication of war holds no water. Why not mention the “Jeep”? Or the jet airplane? These were all developed during wartime then adapted to civilian purpose.. i.e. the CJ in Jeep means: Civilian Jeep. If any one good thing (if you view it that way) is that war does progress creativity and eventually those advanced come to the domestic market.

  6. 3% says

    The men who freed this country used, what were at the time, banned military materials to accomplish their victory. These men knew that uniformed occupying forces were not morally superior to them, and the occupying forces did not have justification for banning the public’s use of tools they saw fit for oppressing the people with. American civilians peacefully owning low-level use of force military technology like small arms and effective transportation is a concept that’s older than the country itself, and such lifestyles are a hallmark of culture in the regions of North America where cartels and corrupt government bodies do not have monopolies on media and on the use of deadly force. Why should free men and women who live for the rugged outdoors concern themselves with the opinions of individuals of urban lifestyles, who, unable to hide a perceived moral superiority, propose that they don’t “need” the tools that become lifelines when away from the city.

    Only recently, when elitists have privately funded attempts attempts to make our constitutionally protected rights seem dangerous for society, have such parallels between peaceful civilian life and war become trendily unpopular.

  7. OldVet says

    to 3% – as a veteran, I wish that my arguments had been presented as eloquently a you did in your comments. Well said, well done, and may the force multiplier be with you!

  8. Warhead77777 says

    So why exactly should there be separation between the military and civilians? Are you against canned food? That’s military technology. Large cargo planes? Four Wheel Drive technology? Rolled Homogeneous Steel?

    A lot of the things you and I eat, are in MRAs.

    We already got this great divide between the Warfighters and Civilians, if it gets any wider there will be hell to pay.

  9. Caleb says

    This really does not answer your question. You don’t tell us the difference. You just state things about the domestication of war. Which really makes no sense at all. It’s more an object of usefulness than military heritage. Most solders found that the stuff they used in the military would be great for their outdoor recreation, and daily lives, and bring back some of those things to civilian life. Which is not a bad thing at all, but nessecary to the development of outdoor recreation.

  10. Brian Rocher says

    Did anyone notice that the HMMWV was not blown up in the rear, but the entire front is missing. Especially where the drivers feet are?

  11. Mike says

    Haha, that was among the first things I noticed… this writer is a delusional elitist, that knows little of his/her subject matter. This isn’t journalism, this is a rather pathetic attack on civilian liberty for the sake of a false sense of security.

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