Call for Submissions: Mission Accomplished

The Fall 2021 issue of Dilettante Army will focus on George W. Bush’s 2003 speech/stunt/sight gag announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq: preening on a tricked-out aircraft carrier in front of an enormous banner trumpeting “Mission Accomplished.” This fall, President Biden is looking to accomplish a similar feat by removing the last US troops from Afghanistan by September 11. The US economy is also predicted to be “back to normal,” with schools and theaters reopening and the virus vanquished. We want to use this issue to explore ways we declare a triumph, especially when doing so is premature or impossible. What makes an ending (of history or anything else)? This issue will explore hollow victories, final acts, and political stunts.

“Mission Accomplished” stands out in national memory because it rang false in two registers: in the sense that victory was declared when it had yet to be achieved, and in the sense that victory was achievable at all in the age of forever war. It was a stunt that tried to conscript viewers into an old narrative of American exceptionalism and moral stature, a “just war” gimmick that hasn’t had the weight of public approval since World War II. To a public grappling with waves of anti-Muslim sentiment, repressive policy, and increasingly draconian national security theater, Bush’s obvious stunting was in bad taste: a ham-handed attempt to play the war hero.

If the scene was ham-handed it was also hammy. George W. Bush, the younger son and ne’er-do-well of the Bush dynasty, played dress-up as a fighter pilot, his silhouette small against an aircraft carrier and banner. It was a childish failure to recreate heroic military propaganda in the style of the Cold War. We thought: how stupid do you think we are? We’re not falling for this! We imagined the people who do fall for this, objects of scorn and pity.

And yet, for some segment of the 2003 viewing audience, this was effective. Despite our supposed distrust of spectacle, some pieces of political theater have become nationally iconic. After Mission Accomplished, after a reality-show president, after Charlottesville, after the storming of the Capitol, it is clear that political stunts are sticky. They have tragic consequences as well as comedic potential.

Dilettante Army seeks scholarly submissions on “Mission Accomplished.” Topics might include but are not limited to: endings, stunts, theater, mesmerism, Romantic irony, conspiracy, dog whistles, jingoism, satire, slapstick, bombed jokes, confidence games, transitions that never complete, self-talk (affirmations, positive thinking), fake it till you make it, and Pyrrhic victory.

Submission pitches should be emailed to editor Sara Clugage ( by Friday, July 23, 2021. Before submitting, please read our submission guidelines for more information on what we publish.

Image: George W. Bush stands at a podium on the deck of an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that reads “Mission Accomplished.”