Spectacle and info-war during wartime

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #5 in October 2007]

AREA Chicago interviewed Aaron Hughes, President of the Chicago chapter of Iraq Veterans Against The War about their approach to education, both internally and with the public. Interviewed by Daniel Tucker.

IVAW is an organization that is constantly growing and changing due to new members joining as they return home from service in Iraq, developments in the policy surrounding the war, and many other factors. How do you handle the internal spreading of information within your organization? How do you do research and education on the often-complex webs of interests that the war serves and the policies and histories that do or don’t support the current occupation, while debunking official misinformation about the plight, history and struggles of Iraqi people?

IVAW’s self-education lies within layers of empowering relationships. Veterans coming home estranged from American daily culture and frustrated with political policies begin to seek out communities of support. IVAW tries to offer that community by facilitating a space for veterans to empower one another, share similar experiences, and discuss strategies and theories dealing with negotiating the continually morphing dynamic of a veteran’s movement. To accomplish these relationships, IVAW uses a series of interwoven and organic coordinating teams. IVAW has local chapter coordinators and regional coordinators responsible for spreading information to membership through a constant barrage of emails and phone calls (leaving cramps in all our necks). This—paired with national, regional, and chapter email listservs and web forums—constructs an opportunity for education, ideas, needs and emotions to be disseminated and interwoven between local and national frameworks.

Despite these efforts, IVAW is still constantly interested in finding new and more efficient ways of communicating. Recently IVAW national has undertaken the creation of a newsletter to disseminate on active duty posts. IVAW has also ventured into a few books and films (featured on our website), and we are in the process of creating a comprehensive resource page for our members and the general public. Members are constantly online searching for information, reading and writing—and most importantly, sharing info with other members and staff.

IVAW recently started producing public performances in US cities, where members wear their uniforms in public space, act like they are holding rifles, and produce mock drills in the middle of public onlookers. The performances have happened in places like Times Square in New York and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. There are generally three parts of the performance, including a group of people passing out fliers before the performance, the performers doing drills, and someone behind them announcing to the public what is happening. What led you to develop these performances? How do you see them working on the level of education and what surprises have you encountered either from your own membership or the public witnessing the events?

Operation First Casualty (the first casualty of war is truth) within this simple title are all the aspirations that lead IVAW to reenact mock patrols in major cities within the United States. Let me try to explain.

There is a gap in truths. A gap between the cultural “truth” of the United States exists between the spectacle of consumption and the sad truth of life in the deserts of Iraq (where humanity was traded for a dollar). Through acknowledging this gap, IVAW members have found themselves encouraged to come up with a creative way to use the spectacle to educate the general public on the horrors and utter dehumanization of an occupation. Creativity was key during Operation First Casualty in order to resist reification and penetrate the spectacle without being consumed by its myth of hyperreality. SoOperation First Casualty seamed the gap by bringing the truths of a daily occupation to the streets of the United States.

At the end of the first patrol in DC, we [the IVAW members] got on the train, looked at one another, and asked one another wonderingly how the media covered the action. It was a moment that stuck in my mind. Despite the chaos and memories of the day’s action, we were no longer concerned with the direct impact but in the mediation of the action retold to us on the local news. More shocking was that the action was not consumed and comfortable to the United States culture of spectacle—but confusing, complicated, and met with frustration. Perhaps the success of the action was as fearful as it should have been… perhaps this is illustrated by the man at Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago yelling as the patrol walked by, “Why are you doing this?”—a cry not far from the Iraqi peoples.

Surprising is breaking through the spectacle.

For more information on Aaron and IVAW, see www.aarhughes.org and www.ivaw.org.


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