The Society of Illustrators is currently hosting an online exhibit of art that responds to the war in Iraq, by contemporary graphic artists and illustrators.
I rarely write about personal things in here, but this is one time when I really feel compelled to. I met a wonderful man through an online dating site last May. After messaging back and forth for a few weeks, we met for a date, and ended up really hitting it off. Long story short, Joe and I have been together for about seven and a half months now.
Now comes the unusual part. He's in the military. And I'm a staunch pacifist. He's still extremely liberal and atheist (as am I) and we share many of our world views. But in the past, I always maintained that I couldn't date someone in the military because I assumed the thought of (or knowledge of) him having killed someone would change the way I felt and/or treated the guy. Granted, Joe hasn't been sent abroad or seen combat yet, but there have been a few instances already in which he was slated to go to Afghanistan, but then the situation changed for him. Every time he gets a phone call or e-mail from the military, my heart skips a beat. What if things are changing again, and now he does have to go? Would our relationship survive him being gone for a year (or potentially more)? Would he even survive?
Honestly, it's something I don't even want to think about, but unfortunately I have to.
Since meeting Joe, my attitude toward the war, toward the U.S. government, toward soldiers in general, have all undergone a shift. I hate the reasons for going into Iraq, but recognize that at this point, the American military presence cannot just pick up and leave. I mean, with the way things have developed, Iraq is damned if we do and damned if we don't; but at least General Petraeus seems to be making some headway, and a new, hopefully more realistic and responsible, administration will be put in place in less than a year. As for the current administration, my opinion has done nothing but get worse and worse (not that it was even remotely positive to begin with...). Never in my life have I felt so distrustful and disgusted by the U.S. government. Even with elections looming, I still have very little faith in the government anymore. I've always known that politicians are inherently evil (such is the nature of the beast), but by now, I've pretty much lost all faith that these people are trying to help Americans. I'm even leary of Obama, who I support and fully intend to vote for in the primary. I just have a lot of doubt that his message of hope will follow through (though I have way more doubt among the other candidates, both Republican and Democrat).
As for my attitude shift toward soldiers... Well to be honest, I used to hold a lot of disdain for them. I know this was an unfair assessment; there are a lot of different reasons people choose to join the military, and as far as I can tell, blind support for the Iraq war is very rarely one of them. Wanting to kill people is never a reason (or if it is, then that person will in all likelihood get kicked out or not make it through training). After meeting Joe, though, after revisiting Suzanne Opton's photographs of soldiers at Fort Drum in light of the disappearance of some of them, after watching National Geographic's "Inside the Green Berets," after reading the cards sent into PostSecret each week from soldiers... now when I see soldiers in airports, recruiters on the street, etc, all I feel is sadness. Not because I pity them, but because I think I now share at least a little sense of empathy. The entire Iraq war has been such a huge, devastating mistake. Iraq's culture, cities, and civilians have been pillaged and destroyed. What started out as a "pre-emptive strike" has devolved into a mess of sectarian violence, civil war, and destruction. It's not fair that American lives are being sacrificed to this monster, much less the thousands of Iraqi lives.
It's all a big, irresponsible, disgusting mess.
So here is my presentation of the Society of Illustrators' "Artists against the War" exhibit. I'm posting the pieces that spoke to me the most, and my response to them in both artistic and personal parameters:
R.O. Blechman's "Support Our Troops"I love this drawing's simplicity. Its message is clear: blind patriotism is suffocating and prevents anything productive from getting done. I hate hate hate hate the blind patriotism that is foisted upon us by conservative media and the current administration. We're told that if we don't support the war, then we're not supporting the troops. This is completely bass-ackwards. I support removing our troops from harm's way; and I don't like being told that being anti-war makes me anti-soldier. Those fucking "Support our Troops" magnetic bumper stickers, which this piece is referencing, are straight-up stupid. How is forking over a dollar for a car decoration supporting anything? These people who wear their indignant patriotism on their sleeve are ridiculous. Are they sending encouraging letters to the troops, writing congress to demand that the troops receive adequate supplies, or doing anything even remotely constructive? No, they're buying magnets to stick on their gas-guzzling cars (which is part of the reason we're over there in the first place), and then maintaining a mindset that tells them they're part of the solution when in actuality they're doing nothing.
Serge Bloch's "Cannon Fodder" This one in particular is infinitely frustrating for me. How could politicians with no military experience (ahem Bush cough Rumsfeld) so carelessly ship sons and daughters, parents, husbands, wives, friends, companions... into such a quagmire? No plan, no exit strategy, barely any strategy at all for that matter, no real committment to catching Bin Laden, despite the fact that he was the one who masterminded the 9/11 attack, not Saddam Hussein. It's just so enraging! People are not cannon fodder, damnit! But they're certainly being treated as such.
Milton Glaser's "The Losses of War"
Honestly, I think this one just speaks for itself. Many of these pieces are deceptively simple, such as this. One little image evokes a deep gamut of painful facts and thoughts and emotions. This prosthetic arm stands for more than a soldier's lost hand. It stands for lost limbs; lost lives, families, homes; the forgotten minefields remaining in poor, war-ravaged countries; loss of innocence; loss of life; destruction of a culture, of history... of hope...
Gary Kelley's "Manifesto" This is probably my favorite. The figure looks so beaten. It could represent anyone involved in the war. The pacifists who are ignored or insulted, the Iraqis who are being invaded and killed from all sides, the soldiers forced to fight an unjust war... The darkness, simplicity, and skewed, half-fetal position of the figure are haunting. And the quote at the bottom is truly disturbing. It says "Naturally the common people don't want war... but it is the leaders of a country who determine policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along... all you have to do is tell them they're being attacked, and denouce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." Sound familiar? The man who said this was Hermann Goring, a leading nazi officer who ended up being tried and found guilty of war crimes. This is interchangeable with the rhetoric that was spouted to justify the war in the first place and is still being spouted desite the obviousness of what a mistake the war is. Eerie. Just... positively frightening.
Peter Kuper's "This is Not a Comic"
Of course I love this one--it references modern art! It also points out the contradictions at play not just in the Iraq war, but in issues we've faced throughout the Bush administration's tenure. Everything has been glossed over. Iraq was not an "invasion," it was a "pre-emptive strike;" destruction of animals' habitats and encouragement of pollution and consumption isn't "damaging" because there's no such thing as "global warming," and even if there were, it won't kill us in our lifetime; the removal of our "rights" is acceptable because we're "fighting terror;" ignoring the genocide in Darfur is acceptable because it doesn't suit American economic interests to intervene. There is so much going wrong in this country. And so many people are just complacent. I hope the new election brings out droves of voters, from both sides. It's time people start caring.
Koren Shadmi's "Tasting Victory"
I have mixed feelings about this one. Visually, it's very powerful. The red on the dress really stands out and is quite brutal, disturbing even. The painting is right to argue that this war is not comparable to those of the past. The "enemy" now is totally amorphous. There are no clear "good guys" and "bad guys," leaving out a sense of glory in fighting. On the other hand, this piece presents a very grim impression of soldiers in this war: faceless, violent, killing machines. I know there has been some very publicized horrible activity at the hands of American soldiers (torture at Abu Ghraib and that rape and murder of the 14-year old girl and her family, for example), but the vast, vast majority of soldiers are not attacking innocent people on purpose. I feel like this piece stands for the opposite of the blind patriotism I discussed above. Any extreme, obstinate frame of mind is going to be wrong. There is always more than one side to every issue. True, soldiers who have committed crimes must be punished for their deeds, but in general, in the case of Iraq, the blame needs to be spread among those responsible for starting and proliferating the war, not on those who are stuck carrying out irresponsible orders.