“Thinking is my fighting,” Virginia Woolf said, and this might be Sentilles’s motto. Her profound and unsettling meditation on war and violence proposes many ways—writing, painting, making music, taking photos—to counter, if not undo, war’s devastation. Writing in the line of John Berger and Susan Sontag, Sentilles starts with the moral implications of looking at images of pain. She considers ethical problems of aestheticizing suffering and asks what good can be done for the victims by the viewer’s sympathy and unease. Yet without seeing exactly what war does, how will people learn to reject it as a solution? Writing in brief chunks, personal as journal entries, Sentilles tells multiple stories simultaneously. These concern a student in her art theory class who had served as a guard at Abu Ghraib; her grandfather, who was traumatized by his service in World War II; and Howard, a CO who was imprisoned for his refusal to serve. These profiles lead to discussions of Japanese American internment camps, lynchings, PTSD (and its foreshadow, the fear-driven anticipatory TSD), the inheritance of trauma by later generations, the use and sacrifice of animals in war, and artists’ appropriation of war images for art. While Sentilles, a former divinity student, closes with a prayer that the world be made anew, she knows the task will be long and difficult.
Draw Your Weapons - Sarah Sentilles