Friday, October 03, 2008

Letter to the Editor: In Defense of a Democratic Society

Max Schoening '09: In Defense of a Democratic Society

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 'distasteful.'

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.