4.07.2006

Of protest and dishonor.

Before I dive into the subject I'm writing on tonight, I want to welcome everyone who got here from the link so generously provided from the Long Island Press'
COVER STORY ABOUT OUR OWN PIA SAVAGE

Also I want to wish a Happy Birthday to Sar on this lovely 4/7 and direct you to her appropriately themed gathering
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I want to talk about protests for a little bit. I make it no great secret that I am opposed to war as anything other than a last resort. I believe that due to the infamy of the Vietnam War and now the War in Iraq, we are less secure as a nation, because the thought of being shipped off to and perhaps killed in an unecessary war, that is fought in conflict with one's values, is causing people who would otherwise proudly enlist defend their country to have second thoughts. Even if one were to disregard the catastrophic toll in innocent lives, this much is clear: To rush to war; to engage in armed conflict under any circumstances other than when absolutely necessary, is to betray the honor of those who serve our country. The idea that such betrayal is inherently present in protest is a crock of bullshit, served up by those who mandate war, and some who stand to profit by it; a cowardly attempt to shame dissenters into silence.

That having been said, some protest does dishonor our soldiers. We've all heard of Cindy Sheehan. At first she seemed honorable. Or did to me at least. But at some point she became a bigger story than the men and women still fighting and dying in Iraq. And then we heard how she had yet to put a marker on her son's grave. In the end she was a godsend to the warmongers. She turned the debate away from the war proper, and allowed the right to use her as a straw man, and equated all who oppose the war to her disgrace.

But you don't need to make headlines to protest shamefully. One such occurance was related to me by my good friend Steve, who goes to the University of Chicago, where A student theater group known as "Naked Theater" dressed as Nazis in protest of Marine recruiters arriving on campus a few months ago. For the record, the act of protesting recruiters my support. I believe the tactics currently employed by military recruiters to be shameful. However, this particular protest was an utter disgrace. Allow me to deconstruct.

First of all, they were presenting a pretty obvious comparison there, and of people, not tactics. Quite simply, they were comparing the Marines to the Nazis. As a friend to one Marine and nephew of another, I find this to be horribly offensive. And let us not forget just how much of an affront the image of a gathering of Nazis is to anyone of Jewish heritage, and moreover to anyone who had to live through Nazi rule.

And even were one not to concern themselves with being offensive, it is well documented that invoking the Nazi party is a thoroughly ineffective way of making an argument, unless there is a direct correlation, and even then it's usually a bad idea. At best the pure sensationalism distracts from the matter at hand, and at its worst, potential sympathizers are alienated. To wit, Hunter S Thompson wrote in a column that the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal disgusted him more than the atrocities of the Holocaust. Now, I knew when I read the column that he never considered the prisoner abuse to be a more terrible crime against humanity; rather it was the idea that this sort of behavior was prevalent (and perhaps even mandated from above) in American POW camps that was so utterly loathsome. But that didn't stop Drudge from eating him for breakfast.

But that is neither here nor there. My point is that while we have the right to freedom of speech and assembly, we have the responsibility to exercise those rights with a modicum of dignity. And I'm not talking about strict rules, or in fact any concrete rules at all. I have gone on the record in support of nude protest, and I use the word fuck liberally and poetically in my written work.

So as I said, this protest happened about a month ago. And the Marine recruiters are due for another visit to the campus. The same group is now planning another protest. Before I describe it, I'd like to point out that I'm reminded of Malcolm X. Even back in the days when he preached that every white person was at their core evil, he withdrew from making public statements for a good while after he made the famous misstep of declaring the death of John F Kennedy to be justice. Now, he was put under pressure to do so, but that should not suggest that the gesture isn't a classy one. It's an example I try to live up to. When you open your mouth and something stupid or offensive comes out, you give pause before you speak on the matter again. In view of their grossly offensive display the previous time, I should like to have heard that the group would sit this one out.

Instead, they are planning a die-in. Basically, they douse themselves in stage blood and arrange themselves in the manner of a group of slain soldiers. Shock theater of a different sort. Not outright offensive per se, but consider that it's taking place on a college campus, where a pile of corpses would seem ridiculously out of place. In fact, if one didn't know better, they might laugh at it. I'm going to quote what my friend said in response.

Shock theater -- which is what you're proposing -- is and has always been very effective at castrating good ideas. I support protesting the Marines. Really I do. But if you want to be taken seriously, you have to learn the difference between pushing the edge and wanking off over the edge. Please. No Nazis. No stage blood. This world is ugly enough. If you want to take a stand and you want it to be effective, your presence is enough. Simply standing and holding a sign explaining why the Marines are a discriminatory organization (heterosexuals only plzkthx) would be direct. Holding a hug-in wherein you offer hugs to anyone who wants one to protest the overt violence of the Marine credo would be beautiful. Hell, how about a silent protest -- hold a sign telling the people who support peace that their silence speaks volumes, and that if they do not support the Marines that they should be utterly silent in their presence, and perhaps would they like to sign a petition?

If you want to make bad theater, I won't try to stop you. But if you're honestly concerned with getting your voice heard, understand that many people here stand with your position, and that you would gain a serious measure of respect -- at least in my eyes, and I suspect with a significant percentage of the school body -- if you chose instead to proceed with decorum in your stance against the Marines.


I didn't mention this before, but this is someone who I did theater with in high school. I've spoken with some reverence about the experience in this space. We both learned a great deal about getting a message across; how to use images. And there is a major problem with a mock death site. It has to do with what is known as the spectacular society. Essentially, a hostile image is presented in a softer light, and thus becomes less formidable. Softening the horrors of war by presenting them in fabrication is not only at cross-purposes with the goals of anti-war protest, it devalues the hardship and sacrifice of those who have had to endure those horrors. To properly understand the sacrifices that have been made to protect this country, and the senseless waste of life inherent in erroneous war, we must keep with us a sense of how ugly war is. In a time before mass media, such an image would be useful because it would have been the most honest one availible. But in a culture where fake violence is prevalent and often viewed without so much as a batted eyelash, what impact will fake fallen soldiers have? Such a visceral message is best left to media that can properly capture the true ugliness of it all.

Images of the Vietnam war were abundant as it was being fought. It was there for all to see, and it caused outrage. It seems that the one lesson that has been learned from Vietnam is not to provide fodder for it. We're aware of the numbers, but as for the reality behind them? We have no clue. For all we've heard of journalists embedded with the military in Iraq, this war has gone relatively unfilmed. We aren't being presented with the images necessary to know what is truly going on there. But that void is not and cannot be filled with a bunch of protesters playing dead. All that's communicated there is the idea that ones intent was to shock and awe. Hardly an effective way to protest this war.

All in all what one must remember as a protester, should one partake in or organize a protester, you do not merely represent yourself and your cause. You represent everyone who supports your cause. To reflect poorly upon your fellows is to damage your position as a whole. What is important is that ideas get across. In order for that to happen you first need to have some. Then you need to present them in a way that will invite others to join you.

The stakes are too high to alienate those who would support your cause.

The stakes are too high to put an axe in the hands of those who wish to shame us into abdicating our right to speak out.

The stakes are just too goddamned high to fuck this up.

13 comments:

  1. I agree that they are protesting in a non-affective way. You are so right.

    Please remember that I am ARNG. I am more than happy to put my life on the line for your right to protest.

    Also, I am not a righty or a lefty, I take each issue without a political stance. Politically unbiased. But you should already know that.

    I support the troops (obviously), and yes, I think we need to get out of Iraq.

    However, I think recruiters should be allowed on campuses. I posted about this a little bit ago here. To me, it is no different than any other employer recruiting. If you don't want to enlist, DON'T. It is 100% volunteer - there is no draft. No one is there holding people down, forcing a signature. No one hog ties individuals, throws them in the back of a vehicle, and puts them threw MEPS. No one forces you to go to basic. It is all choice. The military doesn't want someone who doesn't want in. Those people are the ones that endanger the rest of the troops.

    I have several friends that are recruiters, and everyone who enlists anymore should know what they are getting themselves into before ever even approaching or being approached by a recruiter. It is not like they are hiding it; that is impossible. The military is everywhere - the internet, TV, newspapers, blogs, everywhere.

    Yes, there are bad apple recruiters out there. But that is not the norm. If the recruiter sucks, report him to his superior, and get another one. Or don't join.

    Nice post.

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  2. Very well put and I agree with your stance on it all.

    Sad thing is what the current administration learned from Vietnam is to not let any images leak through as it will make things go downhill for them very fast indeed!

    Great post Wombat!

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  3. Nice post wombat. To me there is no “perhaps” about it it was an unnecessary war. That is hardly the point I realize that.

    I agree with your stance on the protest in Chicago only in that to compare anything or anyone to the Nazi's is indeed a great slam in the face of Jewish people and humanity everywhere. There is nothing to compare and hopefully never will be although I believe Darfur is getting close.

    As for your friends response: It is right on in that informed discourse usually is more effective in making points that people, in the end, will take home with them and consider.

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  4. I ditto Alice and would add that when you described the theater protest it brought to mind tactics used by PETA. I am an animal rights activist and a vegetarian for 14 years now (MY GOD do I feel old saying 14 years!!!!) and feel that though what they wish to achieve is noble and I back 100%, their tactics are so sensationalistic and in-your-face that it shuts people off from any discourse and willingness to join the cause. I have had many friends become vegetarians and all because I never even spoke of the subject unless asked... I think much more could be done via different tactics with most causes...

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  5. I totally agree with all of you that they are going about protesting in a non-approachable way. Sensationalism and shock value scare away people, not bring them in.

    Validity and truth speak volumes without the displays.

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  6. Excellent, albeit hella long, post Wombat. ;) Protests are tricky. By the very essence of protesting, you're seeking to shed attention on the cause you're fight for/against to evoke change where it isn't otherwise forthcoming. The problem is the measures taken to get that attention can be so off the wall that the message gets distorted or worse, lost.

    Hey thanks again Wombat for the birthday nod here and at Belle! :)

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  7. Great post Wombat, and great discussion

    Not up for my usual how Viet Nam was spinned speech

    Think that it's great how people are beginning to discern the bull from the manure

    During Nam many of the protesters were like the ones you describe, Yippies threw bricks etc, and the rest of us were peaceful

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  8. Cowgirl: I'd gladly put my life on the line for freedom of speech and protest and liberty. The main reason I haven't enlisted is that I can't trust that I wouldn't be called to put my life on the line for a cause that's hateful to me. Not quite sure what that makes me. I admire your resolve.

    As for whether or not the Marine recruiters belong on the campus, it's pretty much moot. A protest wasn't going to send them away. I can see myself being in a position to turn them away and declining, and still joining the protest. A reason I failed to cite for supporting the protest is the exclusion of gays. But my friend touched upon that.

    Miz B: And what Bush learned was how to lie like Nixon and get away with it like Reagan.

    Alice: Darfur may well warrant the comparison, but even as such I don't think making it would further the cause.

    Indeed. The message should be what's remembered. Not the tactics used to get it across.

    Miz B: I'm not a vegetarian, but I do think that there is a signifigant body of argument for animal rights. The problem is in its abrasiveness. Should be noted though that effectively carrying a message to enough people to make a difference is a daunting task.

    Cowgirl: Sometimes it's necessary to go the extra mile to get attention. But too many protests don't have a sense of where the line is, or (sadly) that there's even a line to be looking for.

    Sar: Spot on. And there will always be people who endeavor to distort the message of a protest. But that isn't to suggest that one must do whatever is possible to make sure they don't have an easy job of it.

    Pia: And right there is the reason my generation needs to hear what you have to say. The tactic of isolating the easiest people to defame and making them out to be the prime representatives has been going on forever, and even in this age where information is more availible than ever, the tactics still seem to work. It's a rough scene

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  9. Ya know, Patrick, I find you absolutely refreshing. I do not question that you would fight for what is right; that is obvious.

    I do not agree that we should still be in Iraq (or we should have ever been there in the first place). However, I would go there in a heart beat.

    There are a lot of things that the military does that civilians do not and never will know. My one uncle has nightmares about things that happened that never happened. Follow?

    I joined the ARNG knowing that I would not just be supporting my country by going to war, but helping during national disasters, etc. I find that much more rewarding.

    I come from a long line of military on both sides of my family (now mainly Marines and Navy - two Uncles are Navy Seals). Both sides have relatives that have been in the military since the Civil War.

    I can understand the problems surrounding the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy... but why doesn't anyone still bring up the fact that females still aren't allowed in certain jobs in the military? I am a gay rights supporter, I have several gay friends, and know (but don't know *wink*) those that are in the military.

    A lot of religions are anti-gay, which I find hypocritical and more upsetting that the miitary's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. And the military is not the only "employer" or other organization that doesn't allow gays or discriminates in someother way. The military is a better PR target.

    I am not saying I agree with it, but I don't understand some of the hypocrisy or target isolation.

    I guess I am just a little frustrated because I truly believe there are much more deserving things to protest about. And instead of just protesting, do something that can really make a difference, too.

    Perhaps I should just write a post on how I think. You rock Wombat.

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  10. Well, the reason the military draws protest for "don't ask, don't tell" policy more than other organizations is because it is funded by our tax dollars and is often a large part of the basis of the opinion foreign nations form of our country.

    I'll take my targets when they come as far as it goes, but I think that the military should be a high profile target, because when it comes to protecting our country, the stakes are higher.

    I don't know much about the role of women in the military. My position is that all military jobs be based on merit and ability and nothing else.

    Religion is often a tricky target. Some people instinctively shy away. For my part, I believe that everyone has the right to do whatever they will so long as no other person is harmed as a result. This means that I support a lot of rights that others shy away from. It also means that I reject the idea that freedom to practice religion means carte blanche.

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  11. Wow.. Patrick... a great post. I think,just maybe, you should post this over at BIO. I really like this one.

    You are so right... to be against this war is one thing... but what that theater group is doing is appauling. To me they are slapping our soldiers in the face...

    Granted you say that you are not in agreement with what our military is doing to recruit... How should they recruit? Obviously right now... they are desperate... and frankly, they seem to be doing all they can to get soldiers to protect and serve. We need soldiers... they need volunteers to serve or we might see the draft again. But... that's just what I fear.

    You amaze me with your talent... So smart and so young... but so wise beyond your years.

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  12. I see the recruiters alot.. and I always give them a smile and I wish they knew how much I felt for them and their families.. To dress as a Nazi is damn sickening... we do abide by the Geneva Convention rules and a few bad apples break those rules this does not mean that the entire military should be shunned and disgraced! I would have been one rude bitch to those assholes and I am embarrassed for their lack of respect for brave men of our military! I am not for this shit about to happen in Iran ..in fact it scares the hell outta me and I do NOT thisk we can afford to invade or attack that country.. Bush needs to get the hell out NOW!... But as a patriotic American .. I am still going to accompany my boy this October to enlist!

    Some people are just asses!

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  13. Shayna: You know, I think that I'd have a lot less problems with it if they were upfront about stop loss. If they need more recruits, the answer isn't to fleece the people who, despite all that has been done that's caused people to turn away from military service, are coming to them anyways. The answer is incentives. And if the rich fuckholes who put Bush in office want to continue this war so badly, then they can forgo their goddamned tax cuts and do this right.

    And like I said to Cowgirl, they probably do have every right to be there. So do the protesters. To me that sounds like a balanced, Democratic solution, so long as the protestors are conducting themselves productively.

    Candi:I reject entirely the idea that Abu Grahib existed in a vacuum. The Bush Administration has done nothing to convince me that they weren't behind this the whole way, especially since Bush himself said, as he signed an anti-torture bill into law, that he reserved the right not to follow it. not enough to convict a suspected criminal, but when you control the flow of information on a matter, the burden of proof is shifted to your shoulders. I believe that our current administration has done more to shun and disgrace our military than any demonstrators could.

    However, even if I'm 100% correct and this was all mandated from above, you're right. Dressing up as Nazis is sickening and disrespectful. And that I'm certain they did these things with good intentions doesn't absolve them.

    I can't imagine going to enlist if a war I utterly disagreed with was on the horizon. I don't believe that patriotis requires it. My understanding of patriotism forbids it in fact. Then again, I've been accused by some as having overly convenient understandings of certain words so who knows.

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