blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Kevin Tang
I ran up to Brookie Maxwell’s Gallery 138 in Chelsea for barely an hour with the GYC group, but during that time I was able to truly see the perspective of those wounded in combat. In the preliminary exhibition of Coming Home: Journey, Community, Dialog I saw the fear of being wounded and vulnerable in a strange land. I saw the swell of hope that accompanied helicopter blades and a shadow in the sun, descending with an open hand. Then I saw the loneliness of recovery, the pushing of oneself by oneself each day. I saw resilience, in the smiles and dark humor. “Wounded Warrior: Some Assembly Required”. I could not understand their pain even as I saw the depiction and fact of it. But I knew these people were without a doubt, human beings.
Relating this to my studies: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted after World War II in order to protect against violations of human rights. After a prolonged conflict, states and their apparatuses were seen as the villains. It was the state that would draft racist legislation. It was the army that would fire on civilians and enforce the oppressive regime. With the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, it pays to keep in mind that the role the German army played in facilitating the worst crimes committed in the 20th century. The blind worship of state institutions, like the military, brings us to forget their capacity for destruction. But the state and its functionaries are composed of humans. If we accept that all human beings have rights, what about the rights of those who are engaged in their violation. Along the same lines, the military is a tool of the state. But it is people in the military that make its operations possible. There would be no Guantanamo Bay without soldiers to secure it. Members of the security apparatus operate drones and hit weddings and civilians. Soldiers carry out the Iraq War, a costly and morally reprehensible endeavor. But a young man, eighteen, loses both legs. A father in a caravan drives over an IED. Increasingly the psychological toll is collected. In 2012, soldier suicides outnumbered combat deaths. Meanwhile veterans die waiting for medical care. While we must first and foremost recognize the suffering of the state’s victims, we cannot ignore the harm done to the human dignity of soldiers.
In my opinion, an oppressive system crushes the dignity of all it touches. This means that soldiers, the tools of oppression, have been oppressed by carrying out acts of oppression. Their freedom, health, and sanity are forfeit to the state and fate. All human beings caught up in this system have been reduced to less than their full realization of human dignity. This is even truer once they are forced to engage in violations of human rights. Those military members implicated in the recent Senate torture report will no doubt suffer the psychological effects of their actions for years. A soldiers’ exposure to abusive violence, including torture, is highly correlated with onset of PTS. They have violated the rights of the victims and they have stolen the dignity of the men they have ordered to carry out the offense. Fighting for freedom and human rights must be envisioned to encompass the humans on the trigger side of the rifle.
Note From Gallery 138: Coming Home: Journey, Community, Dialog uses art to bring Americans military and civilians back together in constructive dialog. Coming Home does not adhere to a political view; our focus is humanity. If you are interested in being interviewed, participating in a dialog, or supporting the project. Please call the gallery at 2126330324