Draw Your Weapons by Sarah Sentilles
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.