by Max Schoening
Issue date: 10/3/08
Rachel Forman's '09 column this past Monday ("A senseless protest,"
Sept. 29) contains a calm, well reasoned and balanced argument
against Students for a Democratic Society's protest of Raytheon and
the CIA's presence at the career fair.
It is this very posture of rationality and objectivity that I find to
be most alarming - and that most legitimizes SDS's protest tactics.
Before attacking SDS, Forman dismissively mentions that the CIA has
had "some dark moments" and writes them off as "unfortunate episodes
in our national history," as if they somehow represented trivial
aberrations in a history of glowingly benevolent U.S. foreign policy.
She goes on to argue that SDS's condemnation of the CIA and Raytheon,
a military contractor that made over $4 billion in profit in 2007, is
a hokey evaluation of the organizations' "karma."
The overriding tone of the column is that good-hearted, liberal Brown
students always do the right thing and that SDS' criticism of the CIA
and Raytheon was overblown. She starts her column by saying: "I am
insulted by Students for a Democratic Society's assumption that I am
not capable of making moral judgments on my own."
It is fine to oppose the message conveyed by protest. It is
undemocratic to claim insult when people try to affect our opinions
through public outcry.
This sense of insult, shared by other Brown students in response to
the protest, reflects a moral assurance that Brown students are
already doing the right thing about U.S. military expansionism and
the exorbitant profits reaped from it.
The basic silence and complete lack of participation in activism
surrounding the Iraq war on Brown's campus indicates that we should
not be so sure of ourselves.
Let's stop scapegoating SDS and start considering our own complicity
in U.S. military aggression. Let's work for our moral assurance
rather than assuming we have earned it simply by bashing Sarah Palin
and voting for Barack Obama.
Forman, like other Brown students I have talked to, calls SDS'
physical representation of victims of CIA and U.S. military violence
Eager to express annoyance with the sticky fake blood that distracted
them from schmoozing with consulting firms, many students ignored
what this fake blood represented: the real blood of hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi civilians, the blood of a U.S. soldier whose life
is part of Raytheon's profit scheme, the blood of a Chilean student
tortured to death by the CIA sponsored military dictatorship. This
blood is on our hands as U.S. citizens.
The systematic disappearance of dead Iraqi and American bodies in
public discourse and media representation is an essential mechanism
employed to rationalize and normalize American military violence.
Think about it. How many photographs of dead U.S. soldiers or Iraqi
civilian bodies have you seen in the mainstream media?
The Department of Defense prohibits the media coverage of returning
U.S. soldier's body bags, and its policy limiting embedded
journalists' movements with the troops has severely distorted the
portrayal of the Iraq war. Compare the images of Vietnam to the
images from Iraq, combine the disparity in media coverage with the
absence of a military draft and Brown students' overall indifference
to the war makes more sense.
With this in mind, SDS's tactic of reasserting otherwise
systematically hidden human bodies into public discourse about the
CIA and military contracting companies is a crucial method for
resisting the public's rationalization of organized violence against
large civilian populations.
Forman's irritated response to the presence of these bodies shows how
successfully U.S. violence abroad has been made normal, albeit
distasteful and inconvenient, for many Brown students.
Her indignation belies a collective outrage against SDS' violation of
the coveted aesthetics of rational discourse. But what is this
rational discourse, and how many dead corpses, systematically
repressed from our vision, loom beneath its gleaming surfaces?
I'm not arguing that Raytheon and the CIA are inherently evil
organizations that should be prohibited from recruiting on campus -
nor that SDS employed the most effective protest tactics.
I'm saying that it's good that there is a group on campus inciting
debate about the U.S. empire and its human consequences.
Max Schoening '09 is an international relations concentrator and is
not affiliated with SDS.