I have long felt that weapons are tools. They are morally neutral artifacts used for certain purposes by human society. The fact that weapons are used for killing, instead of fastening pieces of cloth together, for instance, always gives people the impression that there is something moral connected with them. I disagree, and that is why these photographs are presented the way they are.
Weapons mean different things to different people. There is, however, one particular class of humans to whom weapons have a very special, intimate meaning. I am one of these veterans of combat, the one in which our country was involved in Southeast Asia.
Early in my Basic Training, September 1966, I was introduced to the M-14 rifle, shown prominently in these photographs. In our early relationship, it was a forbidding, demanding thing; I had to learn all about its intricacies, learn to drill with it, learn how to use it with a bayonet fixed to it, learn how to shoot it. When I got to Vietnam, my first night in country was spent on guard with an unloaded M-14.
About three and a half months later, I was trying to crouch behind a very, very low wall of sandbags, looking at some burning buildings between me and the largest ammunition dump in country. My M-14 was loaded this time, and from January 1968 (the time of the Tet Offensive, if you might remember it) on, I lived with a loaded rifle. We worked together, slept together, ate, eliminated, washed together, and we went on guard duty together, loaded, locked, safety on. I knew that that M-14 might be what got me home alive, and I took special pains with it: every night cleaning and frequent cleaning of every single round of ammunition I could scrounge. You learn that a clean, loaded, locked rifle really is your best friend.
Back in the world, alive and seasoned, I found that the peacetime army - and that is what it was back here in our country during the war - did not value the experience of its returning veterans. The M-14 was once again just a piece of army issue equipment, something to be kept clean, to drill with, to inspect, to play guard with, but god forbid, not to be used. It is curious how that transformation existed. The rest of society has an appreciation of weapons very little different from that of the US Army, stateside, in 1968.
Let me reiterate one point: a weapon is a tool for killing. Weapons are used by many humans: policemen/women, whalers, criminals, hunters, soldiers, slaughterhouse employees, etc. You can reduce this list to only two categories: criminals and proxies. Most of the people who use weapons are not criminals and use them for the rest of us. The tools they use are incidental to the work they do, and it is the work that might be questioned, not the person or the tool. The photographs themselves are of details of weapons, guns in this case. Look at these details one by one and let them assemble themselves into complete artifacts. The photographs are intentionally not of the whole item for the express purpose of showing it as a manufactured thing with texture, shape, and the marks of shaping tools on it. Some of these pieces of guns may be beautiful, or curious, or recognizable only as things of worked metal or other materials.
Please keep in mind that the photographs on the walls are just that. They are not even of complete weapons, and they are, after all, only photographs of the things. Look at them for what they are: photographs.
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