Morale: Naked Women Driven From Afghanistan

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June 14, 2007: When the British Ministry of Defense found out that Harrier pilots and ground crews in Afghanistan had painted racy images ("nose art") on their aircraft, they ordered the troops to cease and desist. In addition to the possibility of women in the Royal Air Force complaining (none have, so far), there was the risk that some Afghans would be offended. No Afghans have complained yet, and Afghan men who had seen the nose art, usually studied it intently.

The concept of nose are was invented by American pilots and ground crews during World War II, and quickly adopted by their British counterparts. From World War II, through the 1950s, U.S. combat aircraft often had customized, and unofficial, cartoons or insignia painted on the front portion of their aircraft. The illustrations were usually created by someone on the ground crew, and personalized the aircraft for the crew. It boosted morale. But in the mid-1950s, air force commanders decreed that the nose art was "unprofessional," and by the 1970s most of it was gone. It managed to survive in some reserve units, but was forbidden for active duty aircraft. The air force says the official reasons for the policy has to do with security and "sanitation." Basically, it's become part of the air force traditions not to have nose art.

Last year, two retired air force sergeants, and some commercial artists, began campaigning to bring back nose art. Some senior air force commanders are favorably disposed towards nose art, and the air force is keen to boost morale, now that the air force is going through a period of personnel retrenchment (cutting 40,000 people) and tight budgets. Allowing nose art would not cost anything, as it would be voluntary, and up to units to find artists and materials for creating it. But like bureaucracies everywhere, changing something like this can be difficult. In fact, it appears to be an impossible task.

 


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