Draw Your Weapons

Sarah Sentilles

Draw Your Weapons
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Draw Your Weapons

Sarah Sentilles

‘How to live in the face of so much suffering? What difference can one person make in this beautiful, imperfect, and imperilled world?‘

In Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles offers an impassioned defence of life lived by peace and principle. Through a dazzling combination of memoir, history, reporting, visual culture, literature and theology, Sentilles tells the true stories of a conscientious objector during World War II and a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib. In the process she challenges conventional thinking about how violence is waged, witnessed and resisted.

Draw Your Weapons stirs and confronts, disturbs and illuminates. A single book might not change the world, but this utterly original meditation on art and war might transform the way you see the world-and that makes all the difference.


In Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles weaves together politics, memoir and history to create a meditation on the relationship between war, art and critical theory. The fractured narrative recalls the bricolage style of filmmaker Adam Curtis, where individual narratives are given as much weight as grand, dominant ones. We bear witness to a century of American war primarily through the stories of an ageing conscientious objector and a former Abu Ghraib prison guard. Both men are defined and haunted by their roles in America’s wars. And both men use art to reconcile themselves to the past. Sentilles deftly draws connections between the experiences of these two men and the theoretical work of Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag and many others.

In between the two main narratives, the absurdity of war is detailed through oblique glances at peripheral and often forgotten stories. Sentilles takes the reader on a tour of the repressed history of the American war machine – from the Japanese internment camps on US soil, to the surgical precision of the CIA’s torture playbook, to the incarceration of conscientious objectors. Through this process of remembering, of bringing the war back home, Sentilles confronts her own complicity and gives up the luxury of disavowal. In doing so, she realises that her life-long identification as a pacifist has worked to let her ‘off the hook somehow, as if being against the wars my country fights means they have nothing to do with me’.

Draw Your Weapons works as a highly original corrective to this impulse towards inaction (though at times, I felt there were too many disparate analogies). Sentilles’ approach is a refreshing and instructive take on this era of perennial warfare.

Michael Skinner works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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