Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

War at a Distance: Gallery discussion about soldiers in Afghanistan

Roger Simon in discussion

The exhibition War at a Distance, which I co-curated with two colleagues, is currently at Gallery TPW, 56 Ossington Street (near the corner of Ossington and Queen) in Toronto. The exhibition closes on the 21st of November 2009. The evening of the 19th we are having a discussion session focusing on videos uploaded to YouTube by soldiers in the field and the importance of these seeing in a gallery space together with other art and journalistic war related images.

The premise for this particular exhibition is perhaps somewhat different than the work in the States as it attempts to mobilize a particular pedagogical practice which does not  provide a position on the War but endeavors to produce questions that might deepen the conversations possible about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan and its subsequent consequences.

Here is the exhibition's page on the Gallery's website: http://www.gallerytpw.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6&Itemid=38


Roger I. Simon
Director, Centre for Media and Culture in Education
Department of Sociology and Equity Studies
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto
fax: 416-926-4751
phone: 416-978-0445


Doina Popescu and Mike Lawrence in discussion

Photo replicas of state of minds about war in Afghanistan

Staff of the gallery

Discussion in a gallery space

The angle is different. While everyone watches the videos Canadian soldiers have uploaded on YouTube, the time could not be more appropriate. A high Canadian diplomat charged that Canadian forces in Afghanistan have handed over their prisoners to Afghanistan forces while knowing fully they would be tortured. Prime Minister Harper moves fast to squash any doubts in the Canadian policy with regards to Afghanistan. Some Canadian soldiers died in the month of November 2009. The repercussions are a new wave of emotions being wiped across Lake Ontario to stirr up some hope more soberness would curtail the deployment of forces, but then Canada has known this since First and Second World War. After 1945 Canada enjoyed for a long time a high standing, internationally speaking, as it was presumed the country suffers as much if not more due to the near presence of the United States as Nicaragua or any other country having fallen in disfavor.

Out of recollection videos contain varied and subtle messages of those serving as soldiers in Afghanistan. The new media has attracted those fighting at the front in order to upload something taken out of what they experience immediate and without precaution. When a bomb goes off, then it is violence direct. The confrontation remains, however, surreal because the real enemy remains invisible.

One video shows how a truck moves through the streets. Suddenly a white car pulls out from the parking spot. Then the explosion. Nothing more.

Others show soldiers scanning out. Explosions at a distance. Halt. Then further movement. Suddenly a bomb goes off close by.

Another video takes the viewers down a dirt road towards a pit like canyon. When the vehicle on which the camera is hosted stops, a deep hole in the road is focused upon. It is as if the hole made by a previous bomb blast and camera stare at each other. No one dares to move. All hold their breath. From the weather it is difficult if autumn or late winter moving slowly, very slowly towards spring but then Canadians know this sudden transition from winter into summer with spring being squeezed out or else just by passed.

In the market place some men squat on the ground. Several soldiers with their guns circle around them. Emotions are not shown by either side. The only invader seems to be a fly circling near the nose of one of the sitting men. At a distance can be seen children running off along a dirt road.

Reference to ongoing discussion in the United States

Roger Simon spoke in his introduction of the video showing under the theme "war at a distance" about the pedagogical approach being taken to be somewhat different from that of the United States. Reference was given back then to discussions which are initiated by Grace Boggs and Shea Howell at the Boggs Centre in Detroit. As an example, one year later, the 9th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan is being observed in silence.

HF 22.10.2010

A Way Beyond the Darkness

By Shea Howell

This month marks the 9th anniversary of the U.S invasion of Afghanistan. Such a moment should be the time for sober reflection and thoughtful evaluation. Instead, the anniversary passed with little fanfare. Even less attention was paid to the protests that happened all around the country, including mobilizations by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War.

War has become the background of our daily lives. It is a constant drone, unable to grab our attention, even in the midst of an election season that promises to move the country even further toward right wing, militaristic policies.

The current state of this war should horrify us. Every month 50 U.S. soldiers die and 600 are wounded. We have killed nearly 34,000 Afghan civilians. We have spent nearly $1.2 trillion directly on this war. Many economists argue that the total drain on the U.S. economy is closer to $4 trillion.

All this blood, money and misery have been spent to prop up a government in Kabul that is widely considered one of the most incompetent and corrupt in the world. It does not command the loyalty of its own people and is mired in one of the most destructive drug trades on earth. Many estimate that it controls less than 3% of all Afghanistan. The Taliban commands far greater support from the Afghan people than either the U.S. forces or the government we prop up. Meanwhile, even the CIA admits that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters in the country.

Beyond recognizing the obvious costs of this ill-conceived and unwinnable war, this ninth anniversary is also the time for us to acknowledge the deep destruction of our souls caused by war. Long ago, in his opposition to another unjust war, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked us to consider what happens to us when we pursue global violence.

In his speech against the Vietnam war he said that our nation has become “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” He said, “Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam.”

Probably more than any other American leader, Dr. King understood the connection between war abroad and war at home. He understood that something happens to all of us, those who fight the wars, those who protest them and those who deny or ignore them.

He said," I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to … is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long … the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.”

Dr. King would not be surprised by the recent study reporting that three times more  veterans die after they return home than while fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. He warned us,” A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King called us to find “a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.” He called for a radical revolution in values to reject the “militarism, materialism and racism” that is part of the fabric of our society. This challenge is still before us.

Source: Living for Change News, Oct. 23 - Oct. 30, 2010

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Detroit, Michigan 48214

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