Curatorial Projects > Paper Bullets: A War of Words (2004)

Paper Bullets: A War of Words

October 6 - November 20, 2004
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

A group exhibition featuring work by Sandow Birk, Amanda Eicher, René Garcia, Mondo Jud Hart, Packard Jennings, Kara Maria, Patrick Piazza, Winston Smith, and Christine Wong alongside psychological warfare and military propaganda material from the collection of Stephen J. Hasegawa.

This is a project about many things. It is about warfare. It is about manipulation and morality. It is about the way that visual and textual messages are used in conflict, and - though it reflects on and re-contextualizes more than fifty years of particular military history - it is about here and now. Nine California artists have come together to create new work and a site specific installation that responds to and re-contextualizes aerial propaganda leaflets used by the United States, Nazi Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and Iraq.

Psychological Operations, or PSYOPS, are generally narrow tactics targeted toward opposing military and civilian populations to demoralize, influence emotion or reason, cause fatal hesitation, and/or tactical error. For this project, Intersection assembled an extensive survey of PSYOPS leaflets spanning fifty years from the collection of Stephen J. Hasegawa. “Nickels,” “paper bullets,” “falling leaves,” and “bullshit bombs” are some of the nicknames given to this form of printed propaganda leaflets delivered by air.

One of the earliest recorded uses of this specific type of propaganda was in China in the early 13th Century, when kites were used to transport notes into an enemy prison, inciting inmates to riot. During the United States Civil War, messages promising money in exchange for weapons and horses were floated behind Confederate lines with kites. In the 1960s China and Taiwan were involved in a major propaganda balloon exchange over the Taiwan Strait, and propaganda leaflets are still currently ballooned and fired across the DMZ in Korea on a daily basis. But it wasn’t until World War II that the modern form of aerial propaganda bombardment reached its current colossal state of production and dissemination. Bags, boxes, bombs, and missiles packed with hundreds of thousands of paper leaflets were flown or shot into enemy territory by both the Allies and the Axis during World War II.

However, the sheer scale of American leaflet operations in the Vietnam War surpassed any previous activity in history. Over 50 billion leaflets were churned out by various U.S. propaganda agencies over the twelve-year period of 1963 to 1975, equaling more than 1,500 for every citizen of North and South Vietnam. During the first Gulf War, the U.S. Army dropped over 20 million leaflets of over 100 different types in Iraq and Kuwait. And during the current war in Iraq, more than 40 million leaflets were dropped by the U.S. Army on Iraq before the first attack on March 20, 2003, and another 40 million plus have been dropped during the campaign since.

We commissioned these artists because they each have created important bodies of work that deal directly with war, propaganda, and mass-produced graphics. Together they have transformed our gallery into a dynamic and sometimes terrifying space merging real military history with new works in sculpture, installation, painting, collage, and illustration. During the development of this project, and continuing through its run, several artists have also taken their work to the streets and to the sky. We hope to look honestly and critically at the role that visual, graphic, and text-based propaganda plays in warfare - and in our day-to-day lives - and we hope to imagine new ways to propagate, disseminate, provoke, empower, and activate.

Special thanks for the contributions and support given to Paper Bullets: A War of Words by the following individuals & organizations: Dena Al-Adeeb, Lisa Banks, Nguyen Qui Duc, Nabil Ghachem, Stephen J. Hasegawa, Haleh Hatami, Amy Lee, Freddie Nazzal, Chinh Nguyen, Niloufar Talebi, Ben Tran, Thu Ha Vu, and Major Lisa King & 7th PSYOP Group