In the introduction to Robert Capa/Photographs author Richard Whelan writes, “Soldiers are able to use their terrible weapons of mass destruction only because they have been trained to conceptualize their victims not as individuals but as a category – the enemy.” Whelan makes the claim that Capa, who wielded a camera instead of an assault rifle, had no enemy and saw all of his subjects as individuals. Whelan, a noted writer of photography (and photographers) wrote a longer biography on Capa in addition to the Photographs book which is a collection of images captured by Capa during his bomb shortened 20-year career as a photographer. If you aren’t familiar with Capa’s work I highly recommend this retrospective.
I want to discuss the enemies concept though because of the intense political polarization that has occurred in the United States over the past decade.
We are now, according to the news media as well as some partisans and anarchists, living and working among our enemies. In (blue state) California clashes between Trump supporters, anarchists, and protesters are becoming weekly events and the fisticuffs certainly give credence to the idea that Americans are at war with one another. Here in (red state) Oklahoma there isn’t the same animosity at the protests and there are protests – the Women’s March, a peace march, a tax march, and the March for Science – all just since January 21st of 2017. We march when everyone else in the country marches and with good numbers considering that we are in a heavily conservative, bible-belt state. Incidentally, the pro-Trump rally also didn’t incite any violence although to be honest, despite far better media coverage, their attendance numbers were very low. Oklahoma citizens have also been going to townhalls and trying to contact their state and federal representatives through phone calls and letters. It is a level of civic involvement that I have never before witnessed, here or in my hometown. No fistfights, no violence, uneventful really.
Yet our Republican politicians and the right-wing media (in Oklahoma, almost all news outlets are a staunch defenders of corporate tax breaks, Christianity, and Republican politicians) are busily calling the protesters ‘outside agitators’ and pretending the marchers and town hall attendees are paid. Their most recent tactic is suggesting the protesters aren’t people who would typically vote Republican anyway (and in some cases they are right) as if that gives the politicians the right to not engage, in a timely and civil manner, with their constituents. But notice the words ‘their constituents’ meaning citizens from either side of the aisle. I, personally, can only see 3 reasons a politician wouldn’t want to greet, meet, and schmooze the citizens of their state or district. Those reasons are: the politician has decided their argument isn’t strong enough to win someone over or the politician, themself, is unwilling to compromise on the issues or the politician believes the citizens hold a view so entrenched that it is pointless to even have a discussion. So which is it? The local media is certainly trying to make the case that it is pointless for the politicians to reach out to town hall attendees and some Oklahoma politicians have expressed that sentiment as well. But then doesn’t that indicate that the media and politicians are the ones promoting the idea that two distinct and separate, never to meet, sides exist?
We, the royal we/the we-the-people-we, need to strongly consider who benefits from citizens locked in an ideological skirmishes with one another and to remember that Capa depicted the side he hadn’t bivouacking with as human beings.
Note: I was considering not publishing this particular blog post because this is an art blog not a political blog. However, this evening when I went to the Facebook page of one of my 2 Republican senators I read comments like: “We are at war with the Left” and “the opinions of whining people [non-Trump supporters and Oklahoma constituents] are irrelevant” along with the requisite Snowflake, Libtard, and Killary references.