The Emotions in Selling Weapons to India

I woke a few weeks ago to a shiny stack of the assorted Indian military magazines and journals I subscribe to, and in passing, made a discovery that’s been poised at the edge of my articulating faculties for weeks. Foreign weapon advertisements are emotional messages. Emotional. They’re leaping out of glossy pages, rolling hot off presses in Ghaziabad and Greater Noida, and telling you how rightly India nation should be defended. In an act that would have made the magazines’ CEOs proud, I skipped all the articles and only read the advertisements. Their eyes would have misted over. Our dear, dear reader.

Well anyway, these are full-page, full-colour adverts on any weapon you can name – attack helicopters, maritime security drones, assault rifles, smart bombs, everything — weapons made by the world’s behemothic arms corporations, all without exception companies that rose like phoenixes from the debris of the the two world wars, and devouring post-war profits for decades until they’ve ended in some of the most powerful policy-shaping organisations on the planet. But that’s a bigger subject. I merely talk about their adverts in glossy Indian military magazines. And like I said, they’re all emotional.

It always struck me as a little curious that foreign arms companies would waste money advertising in Indian magazines when they’re quite aware (or maybe they’re not) that the level in government which decides on billion-dollar weapons purchases does not give scat about what military magazines publish. They may scoff at the odd newspaper report (especially when it’s to do with corruption), but believe me — they couldn’t care less about the new breed of glossies.

Two particular ads in a new, but already respected magazine reached out and smacked me in the face that morning. Both by military aviation companies, both of them American.

One of them has a new print ad out — the copy goes “Defending democracy and spreading peace”, or something to that effect. Ok, I might as well say it -- the corporation in question was Lockheed-Martin, and it was an advert for the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

So what they’re saying is: buy our fighters, not just because it’ll help you stave off all those “anti-democratic elements”, but because our company itself stands for the highest standards of democracy. Noble, and impactful. Except that this company’s customers (of this particular aircraft, incidentally) include Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Oman.

The other, by Boeing for the Super Hornet, is an advert with its fighter cruising over what are unmistakably the Himalayas of North Kashmir. The tagline — “Security is having no border too far to defend” Again, noble. But then why does the company pretend to de-link itself from the Indo-Pak equation when asked pointedly at press conferences. Why recommend how its aircraft can be used. I mean, the Indian Air Force knows it isn’t buying the fighters to hunt down burglars in Bombay for godsake.

Make what you will of it, but I’d like to end on a hilariously disturbing (to me, at least) note. Last year, the helicopter company Bell, put out an advertisement for a new aircraft called the V-22 Osprey, a machine it builds in collaboration with Boeing and British Aerospace. The ad showed the Osprey hovering in the air and American marines slithering down onto what was unmistakably a mosque (it was a dilapidated film set in Dallas, but never mind). But the best part was the tagline that went with the photo — “It descends from the heavens. Ironically it unleashes hell.” [click on the image above to see the full advertisement]

Labels: , , ,