The Aesthetics of Resistance

The Aesthetics of Resistance
Thinking in Public
October 20, 2005
Danny Pearlstein

I have a draft card. If the government wants, it can call me up and send me off to die. When I turned 18, I got two gifts by mail. The first was a complimentary Gillette Mach3 razor. The second was a form on cardstock from the Selective Service System. In the corner, removable by perforation, was a wallet-sized draft card printed with my name, social security number and other identifying information. As the military remains a bastion of sexism, all American males over the age of 18 are required to register with the Selective Service. College-bound men are automatically registered when they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s that simple.

Right now, there are a number of bills before Congress that would reinstate the draft itself, which was last in effect during the Vietnam War. Favored mostly by Democratic representatives and senators who want to demonstrate their opposition to the United States’ occupation of Iraq by exposing the hypocrisy of armchair warriors who won’t risk sending their own loved ones into battle, these bills have gone nowhere.

But a so-called back door draft has been underway for years. Troops supposed to be eligible for discharge are now routinely compelled to remain on active duty because of stop loss orders that prevent them from returning to civilian life. Just like those drafted to serve in Vietnam, these men and women — though they initially enlisted, often lured by promises of job training and free college — are now being impressed into service against their will. Though frequently intimidated into silence, many of Iraq’s supposed liberators hate and fear their absurd task, which has killed approximately 2,000 of them in the last two and a half years.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, a mission allegedly accomplished on or before May 1, 2003, has sentenced to death well over 100,000 of the to-be-freed. Add these deaths to the over 500,000 perpetrated by economic sanctions in place from late Bush I until early Bush II and United States efforts to oust our former business partner Saddam have cost the lives of upwards of two percent of the Iraqi population.

It is as if six million Americans were killed to in order to get rid of our president — even Bush’s removal from office would not be worth any fraction of the carnage. In Iraq, we have exchanged so much blood for a civil war and an anti-feminist theocratic movement. As of yet, this war for oil has consumed far more than it has produced for American markets. And following the destruction of its infrastructure, Iraq now also imports petroleum.

War presents the hideous proposition that we may well lose our lives and that others will definitely lose theirs. So we oppose it, much as we oppose any lethal disease. From history, we know that war inevitably reestablishes deadly social orders, and so are also obliged not to participate in it on that account. This means in part that we cannot make war on war, but must wage peace instead in opposition.

Despite the best efforts of many of our ancestors, none of us were born into peace. The lucky among us know warm, caring, loving, friendly relations with other people, but are still entirely unfamiliar with exquisite peace on a global scale. We are unable to detect peace’s sight, smell, sound, taste or touch. So we dream about it instead.

We also resist war, peacefully, nonviolently. Just before Shock and Awe, the Saint Patrick’s Four resisted the imminent slaughter of Iraqi people by pouring their blood and reading a statement of principles at the military recruiting station in the Cayuga Mall. Following sentencing by a federal judge in January 2006, they are likely to be jailed for their resistance.

Resistance takes tamer forms as well. Throughout Ithaca, and in some other parts of the country, many people wear orange to signal their desire to end the occupation of other people’s countries and homes. The bright orange of resistance against aggression complements the deep blue of peace.

Though we the people of the United States are said to be sovereign — we supposedly comprise our own government — the fact that a majority of Americans want our troops out of Iraq is unlikely to interfere with a small minority’s determination to keep them in harm’s way. The continuance of the war — especially when coupled with the deception required to initiate it — represents the failure of democracy. We are not in charge of ourselves, our homes or our nation.

Yet we resist and work for peace in different ways as we learn and think of them. In part, we do so on the off chance that our efforts may succeed and save countless lives. But we also resist because it is beautiful. People, communities and regions in resistance to something awful look far better to us than complacent ones. We see an intense beauty in peace and in the resistance that represents the path toward it. For some, that peace is gorgeous is reason enough to oppose war and let others know how we feel. For other people, that war is grotesque wins them over from passivity to resistance and the pursuit of peace. We begin to resist when we realize that selfishness no longer seems beautiful.

Danny Pearlstein is a first-year master of regional planning student. He can be reached at Thinking in Public appears Thursdays.

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