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I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World Hardcover – December 1, 2007

77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A fascinating set of shoulder patches designed for the Pentagon's Black Ops programs."
—Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

“A glimpse of [the Pentagon’s] dark world through a revealing lens—patches—the kind worn on military uniforms.... The book offers not only clues into the nature of the secret programs, but also a glimpse of zealous male bonding among the presumed elite of the military-industrial complex. The patches often feel like fraternity pranks gone ballistic.”
—William Broad, The New York Times

“Gives readers a peek into the shadows ... Department of Defense spokesman Bob Mehal told Newsweek that it ‘would not be prudent to comment on what patches did or did not represent classified units.’ That’s OK. Some mysteries are more fun when they stay unsolved.”
—Karen Pinchin, Newsweek

"An art book that presents peculiar shoulder patches created for the weird and top secret programs funded by the Pentagon's black budget... an achievement."
—Timothy Buckwalter, The San Francisco Chonicle

"I was fascinated... [Paglen] has assembled about 40 colorful patch insignia from secret, military 'black' programs that are hardly ever discussed in public. He has plenty of regalia from the real denizens of Area 51."
—Alex Beam, The Boston Globe

"An impressive collection."
—Justin Rood, ABC News

"The iconography of the United States military. Not the mainstream military, with its bars and ribbons and medals, but the secret or 'black projects' world, which may or may not involve contacting aliens, building undetectable spy aircraft, and experimenting with explosives that could make atomic bombs look like firecrackers. Here, mysterious characters and cryptic symbols hint at intrigue much deeper than rank, company, and unit."
—UTNE Reader

"Of course, issuing patches for a covert operation sounds like a joke...but truth be told, these days everything is branded. Military symbols are frequently replete with heraldic imagery—some rooted in history, others based on contemporary popular arts that feature comic characters—but these enigmatic dark-op images, in some cases probably designed by the participants themselves, are more personal, and also more disturbing, than most."
—Steven Heller, The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Trevor Paglen is an expert on clandestine military installations. He leads expeditions to the secret bases of the American west and is the author, with AC Thompson, of Torture Taxi.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (January 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633328
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633329
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Trevor Paglen's work blurs boundaries to construct unfamiliar ways to see and interpret the world around us.

His interests include future warfare, state secrecy, experimental geography, anthropogeomorphology, deep-time, and cave art. He spends more time thinking about modernist painting than he would like to admit.

Trevor Paglen lives and works in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Shilobrit on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
When I first saw this book being offered to pre-order, I signed up immediately. I had read his previous book "Terror Taxi" about the U.S. Government's clandestine rendering program for terrorists and found it to be fascinating. I also am an enthusiast and fan of a lot of the U.S. military's aerospace "black projects"-especially black aircraft develpoment. I'm also into the patch insignia that a lot of these military organzations/units use to indirectly show the project they represent or support.

I think he has done a great job of research and packaging this project- from the cool patch emblazoned on the cover to the color pictures of each
patch described in the inside. A lot of effort went into this cool book!

Very tasty reading if you enjoy that sort of thing-which I do!
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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on January 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a truly unique book. You know this, to start, when you see that the cover has an actual embroidered patch embedded in it. The inscription around it, which forms the title of the book, is actually a translation of a Latin inscription on one of the patches in the book, strangely worded and of course rather obscure. When you open the book, you discover that the majority of what's here is a series of patches, all from the Air Force, that personnel involved in various "black" (secret) operations have worn on duty. The author bills himself an expert in this sort of thing, and he does seem to have some expertise. It's hard to know how much, though, because of course the Air Force won't confirm much of what he writes.

This is an interesting little book for the buff interested in this sort of thing. I would expect pretty much everyone else to be momentarily interested, then bored.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By brian d foy VINE VOICE on July 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a nicely bound book with a patch embedded into the front cover. On the inside, it's mostly pictures with light commentary, so it's mostly a one-time read with little reference potential. The content is mostly speculative, and the patches aren't organized by symbology. I would have liked to see some patches from less secretive units using the same symbology for comparison.

It's a nice conversation starter, though.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Carole on May 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are at all interested in the military, insignias, secret projects, or just good conversational pieces, buy this book. Then take it for what it's intended. The author doesn't promise a comprehensive or even consistent summary of military patches or black ops; he's picked some of the more interesting emblems and thrown a few program tidbits in where he could. It's surface level insight into the secret world of black ops, and if we all knew about it, it wouldn't be very secret or black, would it? The photos are great, the back stories are interesting, and we enjoyed it so much I'm buying more as gifts for my the history/military buffs in my family (i.e., all the guys.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
Trevor Paglen, <strong>I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World</strong> (Melville House Press, 2007)

As is usual, I haven't read reviews for this book before I started writing this one, but I'd be willing to make you a small bet given (a) what I know about the reviews of Trevor Paglen's other books and (b) what I know of Amazon reviewers in general: there are going to be a sizable minority of reviews of this book that are going to complain, perhaps a lot, about how many of the entries in this book, especially towards the back, have almost no information listed about them. For as is the case with <em>Blank Spots on the Map</em>, much of the material Paglen covers here is still very much classified; even in the cases where he does have more information on a subject than one would expect, it's couched in terms that denote hearsay or speculation. (On very few pages does one see the phrase "[t]his project was declassified in...".) Okay, I'm willing to concede the point that conspiracy theorists come off a lot more convincing if they actually <em>don't</em> claim to know everything, but few of them back their stuff up as much as Paglen has over the past five years. You don't see a great deal of that in this pocket-size art book, more's the pity; Paglen makes a few references to having got the information from folks who previously worked on these projects, but there's a complete absence of footnotes (where <em>Blank Spots on the Map</em> was loaded with them) here; I think of this as a kind of companion piece to <em>Blank Spots...</em>.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By E. M. Van Court VINE VOICE on February 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Trevor Paglen started out trying to write about classified air and space programs. Always an interesting area, especially when it results in amusing silliness. This book reminds me of the stealth aircraft model kit that was released by Testor in 1986, two years before the F 117 was declassified. The Air Force pressured the company to stop selling the model, but every time the company ask "Why?" the Air Force would start stumbling and mumbling. You can't coerce someone about something that "doesn't exist".

And so with these patches. They could be complete fabrications, and they could be directly off military uniforms, nobody can say one way or the other. Paglen does present the case for the patches' authenticity very well and includes a brief history of military patches (too brief for my tastes, but appropriate to this work).

And then there are the 60+ patches. Generally, Paglen does a good job describing the patches and his assessment of the significance of the symbolism. Some folks feel that any military symbolism is sinister, and that symbolism for secret military things is infinitely more sinister and disturbing. I found this collection of patches to be very diverse, with some humorous, some baffling, and one or two that I found fairly sinister (this from a Clive Barker fan...) The skunk with the WW I leather flyers cap was funny, even though it was alleged to be from a program more classified than the F-117. The smiley face with sunglasses and a zipper for a mouth was also worth a chuckle. Under the 'sinister' category, two stood out. One designated 'Minotaur', with a bull's skull with green eyes and wings was a little unsettling, and moreso for the absense of any text.
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