May 1, 2008

Journal 1

April 24, 2008

Waiting for the Barbarians

In class, April 17th the whole group began the second discussion of J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. However, before we began direct discussion on that, everyone had an opportunity to express their impressions of the article about some of the military personnel assigned to an Iraqi prison. After a few comments about the requests of Sadam Hussein that seemed peculiar to the students, Yun noted the class that the class must remember that this is a “game of power? and that we must be conscious of “who has the power? in these situations. The class discussion then transitioned to the photographs of what the soldiers had done to the Iraqi prisoners. The behavior of posing for a camera that is capturing one’s indecent activity is something that was quickly pointed out as seeming nonsensical to most of the class. Why would you smile and stand for a picture if it was going to be evidence of what you did?

The environment was the key to this discussion. What the soldiers were told to do and how they were instructed to conduct themselves was something that many of us had not paid as close of attention to. It seems that they were left with fairly loose guidelines on proper behavior and the environment of the dilapidated prison was probably not one for which they had been specifically instructed on how to maintain order. There instructions were guard the prisoners and in certain instances attempt to gain information but how to do this was not laid out as clearly. The photographer herself admitted to feeling quite out of place in the environment and felt less patriotic since she was not able to cope as well with the orders and conditions she was given to deal with. Yun then redirected the class again reminding everyone that if an environment can make a person feel out of place as the soldier had, then what does that say about the environment? Before breaking into our smaller groups Yun added that, the way we feel about things has to do with the environment of those things.

With that comment left open ended, we broke into groups to discuss specifically how the main character starts off as someone who just looks at the things going on around him and shifts to someone who feels he must take part and rebel against the3rd bureau. What actually makes that transformation possible and what does it have to do with his relationship with this girl? In addition to discussing those ideas pertaining to the book, we were asked to relate them to the poem.

In at least partial opposition to the class, my own group saw the main characters transformation as beginning sometime before the novel begins. We believed that he was already partially conscious of his true feelings on what was going on around him, but he chose to suppress those emotions and ideas. The class majority believes moreso that the transition is sparked and occurs a bit further into the story. After seeing so many of the barbarian prisoners brought before him in near death conditions, he eventually realizes that he cannot support such brutality that takes place on the premise of speculation. Specifically his relationship with the barbarian girl forces him to acknowledge the human aspect of this fight that is taking place and that the people that he is supposed to fight against for their oppositional nature are in fact quite similar to him.

As he began to care for the girl, his eyes became more open to the fact that she is not just cold and vacant, but she has been beaten shut in a culture and society that is not hers. Even though at first he saw her as being blind to the truth of what is going on, he later realizes that he is the one who is blind and it is because he can only see the situation from one direction. But still, at this point his transformation is still very much in progress. It is when he takes her back to her people that he sees her ability to interact with them and understand them as he is the one who is an outsider. The reversal of roles allows him to see her as even more human in the way she is able to move back into her society and play a part there. When he returns home, he realizes more so yet what it is like to be the outsider when his own people begin to label him as the ‘other’ and a criminal for helping the girl. He is no longer a strong part of that circle of people. Until that point, he has maintained a mental block disallowing him from seeing the reality of the situation and seeing the barbarians as people. Through his cultural upbringing, he had developed an idea of the ‘others’ as being either not human, or in a way that makes them less human than himself. The ‘otherness’ of the barbarians, he realizes, was created by the people around him and represented a fictitious creation of the government used to control their own people.

The poem represents this story as well as the main character’s transformation in an interesting way. It ends with the concluding line of, “They were, these people, a kind of solution.? The government in the story was able to group and control the people of the town by uniting them in direct opposition of the people outside the town. They needed to label the barbarians as a threat in order to do this, but it was the barbarians’ simple existence that was largely a mystery to the people of the town that made this possible. The government was able to attribute a number of crimes, real and fabricated, to the barbarians and thus the people believed that the barbarians were force to be fought. Having an oppositional force gave the government reason to use all of its instruments of control not just on the barbarians, but the people of the city as well.

Word count: 1,025

Journal 1

Waiting for the Barbarians – p. 1-76

In the first half of this book, Colonel Joll is introduced, a man from the empire who wears sunglasses all the time. The fact that he is described this way immediately gives a sense of separation, since no one can see into his eyes. When he interrogates the prisoners he has captured, this also gives him a sense of distance from the terrible acts he is committing by torturing and (sometimes) killing them. It is almost as if he wears them to shield himself from the rest of the world and the terrible deeds he must commit.

The magistrate that lives in the village sees the terrible acts that Colonel Joll commits and tries to distance himself from them. Yet, he knows that he has already witnessed too much, and that he can never be free of the torturous acts that are committed. He is caught up in a vicious cycle of wanting to be oblivious of what is going on around him, but he feels at the same time that he cannot ignore these things because that would be inhuman (p. 21). Because he cannot honestly be in a state of oblivion but only a state of denial, he is tormented by what he has witnessed and the fact that he does nothing to stop it.

The question of “truth? comes up several times in the text. On p.5, Colonel Joll explains that his method of torture is what brings the truth to the surface. He correlates infliction of pain with the discovery of truth, which is not always the case. Many of the prisoners tell Colonel Joll what he wants to hear in order to make the torture stop. Therefore, both parties get what they think they want. For the prisoners, it is getting the torture to stop. For Colonel Joll it is the “truth,? or at least what he thinks is the truth. He is looking for a certain predetermined answer from the prisoner, whether or not it is really the truth. When the magistrate takes the barbarian girl back to her people, he instructs her to tell her people the “truth? (p.71), then tells her to tell them whatever she likes. The truth again is buried in order to avoid conflict. However, the truth can only remain concealed for so long. Burying the truth always comes at a price. For the magistrate, he endured internal turmoil because he tried to bury the truth, to deny his complicity in the torture of innocent people.

In the entire first half of the book, the barbarians are not actually seen committing any heinous acts. The Empire has cast this cloud upon them, painting them as unruly, bloodthirsty people, but the only encounters that people from the Empire have with them are voluntary; they seek the barbarians out for trade or to imprison them for imagined crimes. The “truth? again seems to be buried under this unfounded common belief that the barbarians are uncivilized, violent people. However, the magistrate sees that civilization does not equate to humanity. Colonel Joll is “civilized,? yet he commits more heinous acts against other human beings than the barbarians are ever witnessed committing. The magistrate mentions several times that if this is “civilization,? then he would rather not be a part of civilization. “Civilization? acted out in this manner is at the very least distasteful and sickening.

The relationship that the magistrate has with the barbarian girl is somewhat confusing. On the one hand he has sympathy for her because her father was killed and she was maimed. However, at other times she repulses him. He seems to enjoy her companionship at times, but casts her away like an old sock at others. In either case, there is not much passion in his relationship with her. His relationship with her in some way characterizes his interaction with the prisoners as a whole. While he sometimes feels sympathy and even some affinity for her, he cannot bring himself to be intimate with her and create a bond with her. In the same way, he felt some sympathy and caring for the prisoners that Colonel Joll was torturing, yet he pushed away these feelings, living in denial so that he could distance himself from everything that was going on. As the story progresses, he struggles with his own humanity, or lack of it. His passions and desires become less, and he becomes somewhat numb to other people. Yet he wrestles greatly with these emotions, tormented by the fact that he does not really desire and love the girl, yet wants her with him.

Word Count: 780

Journal 2

Journal 1
April 10, 2008

In class, April 3, we began discussing chapter ten of Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities. The chapter is composed of three main points: The census, the map, and the museum. For the most part, the class had hardly considered the possibility of these three things being tools which are used to develop and promote a ‘national identity.’ In order to gain a better idea of how that is possible, we discussed first the historical context into which these three elements of nationalism were introduced. Through the use of a map and a bit of background information on the countries which were colonizing the area of Southeast Asia, we came to a better basic understanding of the premises surrounding the growth and promotion of these elements of nationalism.

The first question we encountered was brought up after reading the second paragraph on page 163: How is it that the rise of nationalism can be so directly linked to the map, the census, and the museum, creations of the colonizers, if the colonizers themselves were the ones who were attempting to discourage nationalism? As we broke into our small groups, we were prompted to consider anything that might help us understand the “grammar? of the opposing sides, the colonizers and the colonized, as well as the effects of colonialism even after the colonizers had been displaced - the lingering effects colonialism on the nationalist movement.
Through our smaller group discussions as well as through the synthesis of these in a larger class discussion, we were able to identify a number of ‘grammatical’ signifiers that helped many of us come to better grasp the concepts within the chapter, as well as the role of the three elements – the census, the map, and the museum – within nationalism.

Anderson defines the three aforementioned elements as “institutions of power? (163). Although they were not created just at the time of colonization, it is the first time that they can be seen as used so directly covertly assert the dominance of the ruling “power? over the native people of the territories that were colonized. It is important to note the covert nature of each “institution? because its true effect was not only evident to the natives, but also to the colonizers. Anderson’s chapter revolves around the idea that although the colonizers and the native people of these regions were fighting for control, they both embraced these “institutions? as justification for each party’s right to the territory. This is the discrepancy in ‘grammar’ that Anderson refers to throughout the chapter; while each party was arguing toward opposite directions, they were both pointing to the same elements and artifacts to justify their right.

First Anderson discusses the census. This institution is what enabled the colonizers to define “the nature of the human beings it ruled? (164). By breaking down, separating, and singling out the various people within the territories, the colonizers were able to identify and accentuate the differences amongst the people, and therefore classify them in a way that the native people themselves would have possibly overlooked or simply ignored otherwise. Though this is not the case to every degree, the census enabled the native people themselves to identify with other people within their group and separate themselves from the ‘other’ that was now classified as being outside of that group. This was the first in developing a national identity. Even though nationalism was the very thing that the colonizers fought to discourage, their own classification of the people let the people themselves identify the colonizers as an outside ‘other’ and thus an opposing force.

The next institution detailed is the map. By defining and outlining the territories and creating imaginary lines draped across the land, the colonizers accentuated “the geography of its dominion? (164). This took the groups of people outlined by the census and gave them a place that they were allowed to call theirs, when in actuality the colonizers would define it as their own as well. These lines were drawn by the colonizing parties, but they were assigned to the groups that lived there, whether the agreed or not. Quickly, as the generations changed, they began to identify with those boundaries instead of oppose and work against them. The colonizers themselves had defined and created the fighting ring in which the match for control was to take place.

Lastly, through the promotion of the museum, the colonizers were able to justify “the legitimacy of [the country’s] ancestry? (164). The country itself was something created along with the institution of borders, and yet the people native to these regions identified with the artifacts of their own culture within those museums. When that culture and those artifacts were assigned to that region, it reaffirmed the initial feeling of identity that was created with the censuses and maps. All three of these institutions were manifestations of the colonizers power over the people, but they were accepted by the people and turned around to justify their argument for their own national identity – the thing in which the colonizers were trying to inhibit with these institutions. The two sides were both pushing for different causes, but using the same tools fight the battle against each other.

Journal 1

Journal #2

The reading for this week was the second reading in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The chapter was segmented into three different sections: Censuses, Maps, and Museums. The class went into detail on how these forms of citation were useful, what they were used for, and the significance of their existence in terms of the classification and segregation of peoples and states.

The first section discussed was the Census. Up until the invention of the census, there were no accurate counts of any number of people. Everyone must be documented. The main point to make about this new method of counting individuals was that it not only recorded their existence, but also put them in categories. This made censuses extremely political, as they could define individuals and effectively change their identity in the eyes of the state. Censuses were developed to create an easier way for the taxation of people within a certain area of rule.

The second section was about the creation of Maps. Maps were a way of documenting area. Up until this time, there was just a vague sense of the area in ones vicinity. Maps now defined areas of ownership and rule. Early maps were more horizontal, giving an idea of the way the surrounding area looked from a particular point. They also gave specific coordinates to area of land that has no one has known about up until this time. This stemmed from the idea that an area did not “exist? until it was bounded.

The third and final section of the chapter discussed the creation of Museums. Museums kept a variety of historical documents and artifacts in hopes to retain a connection to the past. These places were often more educational and the only of the three new creations to emphasize the need for educational aspect of documentation and categorization.


One easy mistake that could be made when looking at this chapter is to look at each of these sections as completely separate ideas. Although they are split up into different sections, The Census, The Map, and The Museum are all a way to categorize individuals completely and utterly in every way possible. According to Anderson, this created a grid of thinking, defined as:

The ‘warp’ of this thinking was a totalizing classificatory grid, which could be applied with endless flexibility to anything under the state’s real or contemplated control: peoples, regions, religions, languages, products, monuments, and so forth. The affect of the grid was always to be able to say of anything that it was this, not that; it belonged here, not there. It was bounded, determinate, and therefore--in principle--countable (Anderson 184).

In addition to this separation, these devices are able to give way to new categories which did not exist previously, only furthering the idea that the grid was a total and all encompassing entity.

The first of the three sections deals with Censuses. This was a new way of recording all peoples within a certain area. One of the most interesting aspects of censuring, is that is forces every single person to be put into a category. No longer could there be question as to where an individual belonged. If a person wasn’t able to fit within the categories provided, then a new segment was made. However, this classification was often very different from the old ways of classification. For example, there was an instance in colonial times where “the [native] court classified people by rank and status, where the ‘Dutch’ court did so by race. This caused many problems in determining the differences between different people.

The second of the sections deals with Maps. Maps were created in order to relate what one sees in relation to everything else around him or in the world. What is most interesting about the creation of maps is that certain areas undiscovered were suddenly accounted for. This was, in a sense, the creation of new area since its existence was previously unknown. According to Anderson, “a map was a model for, [not] a model of, what it was meant to represent? (Anderson 173). This marked the ability for man to create area, bound area, that had never existed before. Also, it was another was of arbitrarily categorizing people by putting imaginary lines through land. Where there exists nothing visible, there is actually a division.

The Museum was the last of the three sections. This way of cataloging the history and all past data and objects for a certain state/area was extremely valuable. The manner of categorizing also begot new sections for individuals to be divided into. Previously uncategorized peoples were now put into sections. Also, since the state controlled the museums, they were able to relay history in a way that may or may not have been entirely accurate or truthful.

The Census, the Map, and the Museum are all extremely valuable forms of categorization. They were a way of collecting and sorting all information. Also, these ways of categorization were not only a means of sorting what is, but creating areas to put previously undefined data through the past, the present, and the future.

April 3, 2008

Journal 1

Week 9 Journal

During Week 9: The History of the Self and other, class began by discussing Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities?. After covering our initial responses to Anderson’s writing style and readability, we broke into small groups. Posed to us were these questions: “What does Anderson mean by ‘imagined’ communities?? and “What is the relation of the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality??

As for the first question posed, whatever homeostatic resolution we may have reached within our groups, the differences of our conclusions about the ‘imagined community’ resonated in discussion. Not only ‘imagined’ but ‘community,’ too, needed defining. What is a community? The working definition we seemed to agree upon was that a community is either ascribed or subscribed to, but in either case, it is a group of people with whom one has things in common—whether it be a floor in a dorm, a small city, or a nation in which all members live; a place of employment; or a group of people that all enjoy juggling. So how, then are these communities imagined, even the ones with physical contact? After much discussing, ‘imagined’ boiled down to not fake or made up, not the hierarchical orientation or the degree of physicality of the relationship, but the emotional investment in that relationship: the sense of “I belong.? Communities arrange themselves in myriad different ways, but when one considers oneself a part of a community, one feels like he or she belongs, he or she imagines a connection between him or herself and the other members of the community. And it is in this feeling of connection that Anderson stakes his claim of ‘imagined.’ Even in communities of close physical contact, where the idea of community is almost tangible, Anderson argues that it is still imagined because of the emotional stake people have in it.

In addressing the second question, discussion focused mainly on three different ways in which the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality relate. The first is how they are organized. What kind of relationship corresponds with each type of community? As for religious communities and dynastic realms, the relationship is a simple centripetal, hierarchical relationship. If portrayed three dimensionally, I imagine it would look pyramidal or cone like. At the top is the single, most powerful being in the community (God, or the Ruler); on the next tier is a powerful group few in number (the clergy, or the aristocracy); and on down the until the low group of many (common man). Nations, on the other hand are arranged horizontally, such that every one is perceived to be equal. The second way in which the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality relate is in terms of their bounds. Both the religious community and dynastic realm have fluid boundaries, shifting and moving all the time. Nations, on the other hand, have hardened, set boundaries. The third and last way we discussed that the religious community, the dynastic realm, and nationality relate is in terms of how time is viewed. In the Religious and Dynastic Communities, everything that happens is predetermined by Divine Providence and it is therefore unrealistic to think in terms of what is happening simultaneously at some other location. Nothing that happens is related to anything else temporally or causally. Everything happens in the Divine Realm at the same time and is spread out temporally only on Earth. In the national community, though, things are related temporally and causally and so thinking about events in terms of cause and effect and simultaneity is both plausible and common.

Though not presented in the questions we were supposed to address in small group discussion, we inevitably ended up talking over the shift from small physical communities to larger physical communities to the absence of physical contact within communities; this shift’s causes; and the pros and cons of this shift. Two of the major causes we discussed that were contributors to this shift are the decline of the use of Latin in printing (i.e. the democratization of Holy Scriptures and other scholarly texts) and print capitalism. Once people started being able to buy things like newspapers and to read them at home while sipping a cup of coffee, the need for physical contact lessened; and virtual contact and imagined kinship replaced it.

Journal 1

On March 13, 2008 we discussed “The Matter of Whiteness?, “Failing to See?, and “Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination?. These all have a common thread of discussing race and ethnicity and how they tie into life. The two readings that I will write about are the “Matter of Whiteness? and Falling to See?. “The Matter of Whiteness? is one that dives into the perception of whiteness equaling humanity. Richard Dyer the author of “The Matter of Whiteness? wrote on how in many situations race is mentioned unless the person is white. The class debated this point saying that maybe in regular speech; but not so much in literature is race not mentioned if the person is white. Most assume that the people portrayed in the literature are of the same race as the author. It was also suggested in class that white people are more conscious of other races; though other races are believed to refer to race more often than their white counterparts. In the “Falling to See? by Harlon Dalton race and ethnicity are discussed. The major issue discussed by the class with “Falling to See? is the statement that ethnicity would exist even if there were no other ethnicities. Whereas with a contrast to ethnicity, race you need more than one race for race to exist. “Moreover, race it self would be meaningless if it were not a fault line along which power, prestige, and respect are distributed.? Also in “Falling to See? there was a concern on how different races relate to their ethnicities. Particularly the black non-Hispanic race in America, in how they/we identify our race from our culture. Black is a race not an ethnicity but to some black defines booth race and ethnicity.

I personally feel as though in today’s society we try not to see race as a factor but it is a factor. Race is similar to gender in the way that people want to know how you are classified. Which box do you belong to is a question we try not to think about but it is always there in the back of are minds. As seen with “The Matter of Whiteness? it is believed that to some whiteness equals humanity. When a person is not white it seems as though their race is focused more on. As a minority I feel as though my race proceeds all of my other characterizes. This can be because my race is what one sees first. My race does proceed all of my other characterizes because it is something I can not hide, it is clearly there and definable. That could be why it is the one judge on the most. I wonder if others feel as if their race defines them before they can even open their mouth? Whites are portrayed in “The matter of Whiteness? as being oblivious to their race. They can do that because “as long as race is something only applied to non-whites peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm.?

According to Dyer being white is not addressed as often as other races making whiteness invisible, dominant. If this is so those who are white do not have to deal with bad connotations of race? Race means nothing because their race is what is seen as humanity? Do they do not have to deal with all the baggage associated with race because their race is perceived to be the human race? This could be why some white people become defensive when mentioning their race. They feel as though there race has no bearing on their actions. Whereas I feel as though my race is a huge contributor to my actions; I feel as if there are rules that are associated with my race. Most of those rules are bad stereotypes. I feel a heavy weight form my race and I wonder if other feel the same. I wonder if I would feel this weight if I were apart of the majority is it easier to breathe when you are apart of the majority. These are all the thoughts I had when reading “The Matter of Whiteness? but my feeling and thoughts changed as I went to the next reading. It is odd how from day to day article to article my opinion can change. A question that I am personally baffled on is how to distinguish my race from ethnicity.

The question of race is one that is only skin deep ethnicity on the other hand is ones culture and traditions. Race needs another race to be seen but ethnicity stands alone. I agree with this statement. Sometimes race is confused with ethnicity; an example would be as a mentioned before the African American community. I do not feel as if I should say I am African American. I have no ties to the continent of Africa I know little to nothing about it. Why should I say African it does not in my opinion describe me. Although I am quick to disregard the African part of African American older generations fought so hard to be described as African American. There is a clash between the generations over the description. With this I can only think that if we as a group can not identify ourselves what message does that send. Another example mentioned in class was Native Americans and how they are at times seen as race and ethnicity. Native American is a broad term. There are many tribes that make up the race of Native American each having its own ethnicities. Ethnicity is grounded in our way of life in what we do, eat, our traditions, and culture. With each article I became more confused on how I feel about the topics discussed. Each one is complex and can be viewed from multiply sides.
Word Count: 900

March 25, 2008

Exposure: The woman hehind the camera at Abu Ghraib

Errol Morris talks with Philip Gourevitch about Abu Ghraib, the subject of Morris’s forthcoming film and of a book Gourevitch is writing with him.

The New Yorker, March 24, 08
by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris

All that the soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit out of Cresaptown, Maryland, knew about America’s biggest military prison in Iraq, when they arrived there in early October of 2003, was that it was on the front lines. Its official name was Forward Operating Base Abu Ghraib. Never mind that military doctrine and the Geneva Conventions forbid holding prisoners in a combat zone, and require that they be sped to the rear; you had to make the opposite sort of journey to get to Abu Ghraib. You had to travel along some of the deadliest roads in the country, constantly bombed and frequently ambushed, into the Sunni Triangle. The prison squatted on the desert, a wall of sheer concrete traced with barbed wire, picketed by watchtowers. “Like something from a Mad Max movie,? Sergeant Javal Davis, of the 372nd, said. “Just like that—like, medieval.? There were more than two and a half miles of wall with twenty-four towers, enclosing two hundred and eighty acres of prison ground. And inside, Davis said, “it’s nothing but rubble, blown-up buildings, dogs running all over the place, rabid dogs, burnt remains. The stench was unbearable: urine, feces, body rot.?

The prisoners—several thousand of them, clad in orange—were crowded behind concertina wire. “The encampment they were in when we saw it at first looked like one of those Hitler things, like a concentration camp, almost,? Davis said. “They’re in there, in their little jumpsuits, outside in the mud. Their rest rooms was running over. It was just disgusting. You didn’t want to touch anything. Whatever the worst thing that comes to your mind, that was it—the place you would never, ever, ever, ever send your worst enemy.?

The M.P.s of the 372nd were told to make themselves at home in an abandoned prison block, a compound ravaged by looters and invaded by the desert. The sand lay several inches deep in places, mixed with decomposing trash. Moving in meant digging out and sweeping up, and when you’d purged the debris—weird stuff, some of it; for instance, used syringes, which just made you wonder—what you had were bare prison cells. The military term of art for the place where soldiers sleep and bathe and eat on base is L.S.A., which means “life-support area,? and at other forward operating bases around Iraq an L.S.A. meant climate-controlled tents and a mess hall, electricity and hot water, a gym and an Internet café, phones and satellite television, PX shops and fast-food joints. A proper L.S.A. is an outpost of the motherland, and it affirms the sense of pride and tribe that is essential to morale and discipline. At Abu Ghraib, showers were wooden sheds with cold-water drums propped overhead. The unit had no field kitchen, so chow was combat rations—M.R.E.s, meals-ready-to-eat—breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a cardboard box; everything in a polymer packet.

Nobody had expected luxury at Saddam Hussein’s old prison, but morale was low to begin with—the M.P.s just wanted to know when they were going home—and there was something about living in cells at Abu Ghraib that never felt right. “We had some kind of incinerator at the end of our building,? Specialist Megan Ambuhl said. “It was this huge circular thing. We just didn’t know what was incinerated in there. It could have been people, for all we knew—bodies.? Sergeant Davis was not in doubt. “It had bones in it,? he said, and he called it the crematorium. “But hey, you’re at war,? he said. “Suck it up or drive on.?

The autumn nights were getting cold in the desert, down to forty degrees, which felt colder in a concrete box, where the wind blew in through empty window frames. From some of those windows you could look out over the prison’s perimeter wall into the windows of an apartment complex in the city of Abu Ghraib, a sprawling Baghdad suburb long dominated by Saddam’s Baath Party functionaries, and the people in those apartments could look back at you. As the M.P.s unpacked their kit in their new quarters, they were told that snipers sometimes made use of this arrangement to shoot into the prison. The trick was not to make yourself a target: stay away from the windows, keep your lamps dim and covered—don’t cast a shadow.

On her first night at the prison, Specialist Sabrina Harman, a twenty-six-year-old M.P. from Virginia, wrote a letter home to the woman she called her wife:

Its 9:00 pm and we can hear shots—no white lights are allowed to be on at night no leaving the building after dark. I hope we aren’t here long! We drove in and two helicopters were landed taking prisoners off.
I’m scared of helicopters because of the dream. I think I wrote it down before. I saw a helicopter and it looked like the tail was swaying back and forth then it did it again then a huge flame/round shot up and it exploded. I turned around and we were under attack, I didn’t have my weapon (gun) so all we could do was hide under these picknick tables. So back to the prison . . . we get to our buildings and I step out of my truck right in front of a picknick table.—I almost freaked out. I have a bad feeling about this place. I want to leave as soon as possible! We are still hoping to be home X-mas or soon after.—
I love you.
I’m going to get some sleep.
I’ll write you again soon.
Please don’t give up on me!

Like many young reservists, Harman had joined the Army to help pay for college. She had never imagined that she’d see war, and Iraq often felt unreal to her; “like a dream,? she said. Then she had that dream—about a gunman shooting at a helicopter from a date palm while she hid, unarmed, beneath a picnic table—and it was all too real. “And it kind of came true, maybe two or three weeks later,? she said. “Down the road, they started shooting helicopters from date trees.?

That was in Al Hillah, a Shiite town near the ruins of ancient Babylon, sixty miles south of Baghdad, where the 372nd M.P.s had been stationed since they started arriving in Iraq, in May. Having sat out the Shock and Awe phase of the invasion at Fort Lee, in Virginia, they were sent in through Kuwait shortly after George W. Bush, standing beneath a “Mission Accomplished? banner, declared, in May of 2003, that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended?—and in Al Hillah, during that first summer of the war, they had. The M.P.s felt safe walking the streets; they made friends among the Iraqis, played with the kids, shopped in the markets, shared meals at the outdoor cafés. Their headquarters, in an abandoned date-processing factory, were minimally fortified, and were never attacked. Their mission was to provide combat support for the First Marine Expeditionary Force, which controlled the city, and to train local policemen for duty under a new national government. They understood their presence to be temporary, expecting that America would hand over the country to democratically elected Iraqis by summer’s end, then get out of the way.

To Harman, the assignment felt like a peacekeeping mission, not a tour of combat, and she wasn’t complaining. She was known in the unit as someone who hated to see or do violence. “Sabrina literally would not hurt a fly,? her team leader, Sergeant Hydrue Joyner, said. “If there’s a fly on the floor and you go to step on it, she will stop you.? Specialist Jeremy Sivits, a mechanic in the company’s motor pool, said, “We’d try to kill a cricket, because it kept us up all night in the tent. She would push us out of the way to get to this cricket, and would go running out of the tent with it. She could care less if she got sleep, as long as that cricket was safe.? That made Sivits laugh, but he worried that she wouldn’t survive a firefight. Joyner agreed. “As a soldier, you can’t allow your heart to get in the way sometimes, because the moment you do you may get killed or may get someone else killed,? he said. “But with Sabrina, I think she would have made a better humanitarian than a soldier, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.? Sivits couldn’t figure why she had joined the military. “She was just too nice to be a soldier,? he said.

Harman said that she had wanted to be a cop, like her father and her brother, and her idea was to become a forensic photographer. Pictures had always fascinated her. She made an album of the snapshots people took of her: a diapered toddler in a blue knit cap sitting beside a yellow telephone, her mouth wide open with mirth; a little girl with perfectly combed and bobbed bangs, kneeling in an elaborately frilled dress, white stockings, and white gloves, on a green carpet against a studio backdrop of rampantly blooming cherry trees; a girl riding a pony; a teen-age girl with head shorn to a boyish crop, wearing dungarees and boots and a loose oversized flannel shirt beneath a loose black leather motorcycle jacket; a young woman squinting in a sun-blasted parking lot, wearing full camouflage—helmet, flak jacket, cargo pants—and carrying a riot baton. It was an ordinary album except for one thing: the directness with which she met the camera, eye to eye, looking frankly through the lens as if she were the one taking the picture.

She liked to look. She might recoil from violence, but she was drawn to its aftermath. When others wanted to look away, she’d want to look more closely. Wounded and dead bodies fascinated her. “She would not let you step on an ant,? Sergeant Davis said. “But if it dies she’d want to know how it died.? And taking pictures fascinated her. “Even if somebody is hurt, the first thing I think about is taking photos of that injury,? Harman said. “Of course, I’m going to help them first, but the first reaction is to take a photo.? In July, she wrote to her father, “On June 23 I saw my first dead body I took pictures! The other day I heard my first grenade go off. Fun!? Later, she paid a visit to an Al Hillah morgue and took pictures: mummified bodies, smoked by decay; extreme closeups of their faces, their lifeless hands, the torn flesh and bone of their wounds; a punctured chest, a severed foot. The photographs are ripe with forensic information. Harman also had her picture taken at the morgue, leaning over one of the blackened corpses, her sun-flushed cheek inches from its crusted eye sockets. She is smiling—a forced but lovely smile—and her right hand is raised in a fist, giving the thumbs-up, as she usually did when a camera was pointed at her.

“I kind of picked up the thumbs-up from the kids in Al Hillah,? Harman said. “Whenever I get into a photo, I never know what to do with my hands, so I probably have a thumbs-up because it’s just something that automatically happens. Like when you get into a photo you want to smile.? There are at least twenty photos from Al Hillah in which she is in the identical pose, same smile, same thumbs-up: bathing in an inflatable wading pool; holding a tiny lizard; standing at the foot of a wall that bears a giant bas-relief of Saddam (the button of his suit jacket is bigger than her head); fooling around with her best Army buddy, Megan Ambuhl, who is giving her the finger and flashing a tongue stud; holding a tiny figurine of Jesus; holding a long, phallic melon; mounting the ancient stone lion of Babylon at the ruins of King Nebuchadnezzar’s city; leaning over the shoulder of an M.P. buddy who is holding a Fanta can on top of which sits a dead cat’s head; and so on.

The cat’s head was one of Harman’s gags. She had a kitten that was killed by a dog, and since it had no visible wounds she performed a rough autopsy, discovered organ damage, and then an M.P. buddy mummified its head. They gave it pebbles for eyes, and Sabrina photographed it in various inventive settings: on a bus seat with sunglasses, smoking a cigarette, wearing a tiny camouflage boonie hat, floating on a little pillow in the wading pool, with flowers behind its ears. She took more than ninety photographs and two videos of it. The series, in its weird obsessiveness and dark comedy, has the quality of conceptual art. At one time or another, at least fifteen of Harman’s fellow-M.P.s posed for photos with the cat head; several senior officers and a number of Iraqi men and boys also took the time to have their pictures taken with it. The cat head had become a fetish object, like Huckleberry Finn’s dead cat, which Tom Sawyer admires—a scene that Norman Rockwell illustrated in a folksy print captioned “Lemme see him, Huck. My, he’s pretty stiff!?

Much of Harman’s photo album from Al Hillah looks like a fantasy travel brochure for post-Saddam Iraq: here she is, skin aglow, beaming, amid swarms of joyous Iraqi children—children clambering into her lap, throwing their arms around her, mobbing her in the streets; here she is welcomed into local homes by mustached men in dishdashas bearing tiny cups of tea; here she is visiting the antiquities, with a Bedouin and his camel at the ziggurat of Borsippa, and with fellow-soldiers at the Ishtar gate of Babylon; and here she is in camouflage, with her arm around a pregnant woman swathed in black, her hand on the future-full belly, the woman grinning. Harman bought her Iraqi friends clothes and food and toys. She bought one family a refrigerator, and made sure it was stocked. Sergeant Joyner said, “The Iraqi kids—you couldn’t go anywhere without them saying, ‘Sabrina, Sabrina.’ They just loved themselves some Sabrina. She’ll get these kids balloons, toys, sodas, crackers, cookies, snacks, sweet rolls, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Twinkies, she didn’t care. She would do anything she could to make them kids smile.?

Still, the welcome in Al Hillah was brittle. The Americans had not brought what they’d promised: a new order. The war wasn’t over, Iraq had no government, the liberators had become occupiers, and the occupation was slapdash, improvised, and inadequate—at best, a disappointment, and more often an insult. So, in the fever heat, month after month of a hundred and ten and a hundred and twenty degrees, alienation set in. Frustration gave way to hostility, hostility gave way to violence, and by summer’s end the violence against Americans was increasingly organized. It was demoralizing. Every Iraqi might be the enemy. What was the point of being there, unwanted? Nobody from the 372nd was killed in Al Hillah, but on patrols there was shooting, in the night there were explosions, and Sabrina had her nightmare. At least the picnic tables had seemed to her fanciful, the random furniture of dreamscapes—until she got to Abu Ghraib, and there they were.

As the 372nd M.P.s arrived at Abu Ghraib, they learned that two Military Intelligence officers had just been killed there in a mortar attack that had left a dozen other soldiers badly wounded, and it didn’t take long before the M.P.s had their own but-for-this and but-for-that stories of near misses. “A few nights after we got here . . . we were sitting in a meeting and heard 3 thumps then explosion,? Harman wrote to Kelly. A firefight ensued. “Next day,? she wrote, “found out it was an IED (bomb planted in a Coke can wired to a clicker) blew up a vehicle (no one hurt) then they chased down the 3 men that did it and killed them.?

It was said that Abu Ghraib was the most-attacked American base in Iraq at the time. The prison made an obvious target for insurgents: immense and immobile and poorly defended, an outpost of the military occupation in its most despised aspect—holding Iraqis captive. At first, the attacks came at nightfall, around the time that the muezzins’ call to prayer was broadcast from loudspeakers atop nearby minarets. “When the mosque was playing, that was mortar o’clock,? Sabrina Harman said. “In Al Hillah it was kind of soothing and relaxing, and when you get to Abu it was completely different. When they were praying, that’s when you knew you were going to get hit at Abu Ghraib.?

With time, the attacks ceased to adhere to such a tight schedule. Mortars began falling by day, and Harman said, “I was more afraid of walking outside or going to take a shower. I pretty much didn’t. I would use baby wipes. I kind of went infantry for the time I was there, maybe shower once or twice a month if I had to. The showers were outside. They were made of wood, and if a mortar hit, you were going to die. If I could’ve peed inside, I probably would have.? She said, “You had to go to the showers and the bathroom with your flak vest on.? At Abu Ghraib, Javal Davis said, even sleep was no refuge. He hated the thought that he could be killed without knowing it: “I always used to say, ‘God, if I go out, if I have to die, don’t take me in my sleep. I want to feel it.’ ?

The soldiers had a drill to follow during an attack: run, grab your body armor, run, crowd into a shelter, and wait. After a while, hardly anybody bothered. “If you get hit, you get hit. There’s really nothing you could do,? Harman said. “If they got lucky, they hit somebody.? For the most part, the mortars fell on empty ground: nobody was hurt, no property damaged. But the randomness and imprecision of the persistent bombardments heightened the sense that no place was safe.

Of course, the prisoners in the tented camps couldn’t move, and as mortars kept falling on Abu Ghraib, prisoners kept getting killed and maimed. These casualties were promptly recorded in Serious Incident Reports on the military security networks. Then the dead were removed and their remains were sent to a morgue, while the wounded were treated at the prison clinic or, if the damage was severe, evacuated to a hospital before being returned to the camps. The Americans running the prison knew that it was their duty to protect their prisoners, and they knew that at Abu Ghraib that was impossible.

The 372nd M.P.s assumed they had been sent to Abu Ghraib because it was dangerous. They were combat M.P.s, trained to support the operations of front-line forces—to conduct route reconnaissance, escort convoys, run patrols, go on raids. They were abundantly armed and travelled with a fleet of heavy vehicles. “We thought we were going to go kick some behind around the prison and help them out,? Sergeant Davis said. “But that’s not what happened. Once we got there, they told our guys, no, we’re going to be prison guards.?

The new assignment—to run one of the overcrowded tented camps and the indoor prison complex known, on account of its concrete-bunker-like solidity, as the hard site—bewildered the company. Combat units don’t run prisons. That is the province of another cadre of M.P.s, known as internment and resettlement M.P.s, who are trained according to the Army’s extensive doctrine on handling all manner of wartime captives and displaced persons. The 372nd M.P.s had no such specialized experience. A couple of them worked as corrections officers back home, but that gave them no exposure to the Geneva Conventions, and the rest of them didn’t know the first thing about prison work. Their company commander, Captain Donald Reese, was a window-blinds salesman in civilian life.

Although they did not know it at the time, the lack of experience and training in handling prisoners in wartime made the soldiers of the 372nd ideally suited to Abu Ghraib, where almost nothing was run according to military doctrine. Since May, 2003, America’s war in Iraq had been waged as a chapter in the war on terror, and the military’s long-standing rules for running prisons in wartime had largely been ignored. By midsummer, the great majority of prisoners of war who were seized during the invasion had been released. Those who remained in captivity—along with all new prisoners seized by the military—were designated “security detainees,? a label that had gained currency in the war on terror, to describe “unlawful combatants? and other prisoners who had been denied P.O.W. status and could be held indefinitely, in isolation and secrecy, without judicial recourse. The great majority of the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib were designated security detainees, and placed under the authority of Military Intelligence officers, who instructed the M.P.s on how to treat them.

Later, when the photographs of crimes committed against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were made public, the blame focussed overwhelmingly on the Military Police officers who were assigned to guard duty in the Military Intelligence cellblock—Tiers 1A and 1B—of the hard site. The low-ranking reservist soldiers who took and appeared in the infamous images were singled out for opprobrium and punishment; they were represented, in government reports, in the press, and before courts-martial, as rogues who acted out of depravity. Yet the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was de facto United States policy. The authorization of torture and the decriminalization of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of captives in wartime have been among the defining legacies of the current Administration; and the rules of interrogation that produced the abuses documented on the M.I. block in the fall of 2003 were the direct expression of the hostility toward international law and military doctrine that was found in the White House, the Vice-President’s office, and at the highest levels of the Justice and Defense Departments.

The Abu Ghraib rules, promulgated by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, elaborated on the interrogation rules for Guantánamo Bay, which had been issued by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; they were designed to create far more license than restriction for interrogators who sought to break prisoners. The M.P.s at Abu Ghraib were enlisted as enforcers of such practices as sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sensory disorientation, and the imposition of physical and psychological pain. They never received a standard operating procedure to define what was required and what was allowed, but were repeatedly instructed simply to follow the guidance of Military Intelligence officers. An orthodox standard operating procedure leaves nothing to the imagination, and as Megan Ambuhl settled into her job it occurred to her that the absence of a code was the code at Abu Ghraib. “They couldn’t say that we broke the rules because there were no rules,? she said. And by taking pictures of the prisoners on the M.I. block the M.P.s demonstrated two things: that they never fully accepted what was happening as normal, and that they assumed they had nothing to hide.

By way of orientation, the soldiers of the 372nd who were assigned guard duty at the hard site were given a tour of the place. They saw the ordinary cellblocks for Iraqi criminals and the highly restricted M.I. block, where the most “high value? security detainees were held, during and pending interrogation, in single-occupancy cells. “That’s when I saw the nakedness,? Javal Davis said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, Sarge, why is everyone naked?’ You know—‘Hey, that’s the M.I. That’s what the M.I. does. That’s the M.I. thing. I don’t know.’ ‘Why do these guys have on women’s panties?’ Like—‘It’s to break them.’ ? Davis was wide-eyed. “Guys handcuffed in stress positions, in cells, no lights, no windows. Open the door, turn the light on—‘Oh my God, Allah.’ Click, turn the light off, close the door. It’s like, Whoa, what is that? What the hell is up with all this stuff? Something’s not right here.?

A delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the M.I. block of the hard site between October 9 and 12, 2003, and had much the same reaction that Sergeant Davis had. The Geneva Conventions require that I.C.R.C. delegates be given unrestricted access to military prisons, to monitor conditions and interview prisoners in private. At Abu Ghraib, however, they reported that there were “many obstacles? to their mission, “imposed, apparently, at the behest of Military Intelligence,? and what they were permitted to see and hear did not please them: men held naked in bare, lightless cells, paraded naked down the hallways, verbally and physically threatened, and so forth. The Red Cross was not reassured when M.I. officers explained that these abuses were part of the interrogation process; and the delegates were indignant when they were told that they wouldn’t be allowed to see some prisoners. They broke off their visit, and came back two weeks later to complete their inspection. Based on their two visits, the I.C.R.C. reported that the Military Intelligence operation at Abu Ghraib was plagued by gross and systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions—physical abuses that left prisoners rattled by psychological trauma: “incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions . . . suicidal ideas.?

On occasion, interrogators told the M.P.s to reward a prisoner—give him a better meal or a pack of cigarettes and let him smoke in his cell—as an incentive for coöperation in interrogation. But mostly what interrogators wanted when they asked for “special treatment? was punishment: take away his mattress, keep him awake, take away his clothes, or “P.T.? him—that is, put him through a “physical training? regimen that might range from squat thrusts and low-crawling naked over concrete to being slapped and knocked around while hooded and made to stand on a cardboard box all night.

The M.P.s on the M.I. cellblock never learned the prisoners’ names. Officially, they referred to their wards by their five-digit prison numbers, but the numbering system was confusing, and the numbers told you nothing about a person, which made them hard to remember. So the soldiers gave the prisoners nicknames based on their looks and their behavior. A prisoner who made a shank and tried to stab someone was Shank, and a prisoner who got hold of a razor blade and cut himself was called Slash. A prisoner who kept spraying himself and his cell with water and was always asking for a broom was Mr. Clean. A prisoner who repeatedly soaked his mattress with water was Swamp Thing.

There was a man they called Smiley, and a man they called Froggy, and a man they called Piggy. There was a man with no fingers on one hand, only a thumb, who was called Thumby—not to be confused with the enormous man called the Claw or Dr. Claw, because one of his hands was frozen in a half-clenched curl. The man they called Santa Claus was also called Snowman. There was the man they called Taxi Driver, because he’d been arrested while driving a cab, and there was a gaunt man they called Gus, but nobody knew why that name had stuck, and he was also sometimes called Mr. Burns, after the scrawny villain on “The Simpsons.?

The nicknames made the prisoners both more familiar and more like cartoon characters, which kept them comfortably unreal when it was time to mete out punishment. Hydrue Joyner took credit for many of the nicknames. “It was jail, but, you know, you can still laugh in jail,? he said. Javal Davis, who had spent six years in the Army, “expecting to learn a career field, get some benefits for college, get a step ahead of my peers, get discipline, become a man,? enjoyed gallows humor as much as the next guy. The problem was that when you spend your nights doing nasty things to people you’ve got to endure them yourself. Davis had violence in him, and he found that making life miserable for men toward whom he had no personal animus could work him into a mounting, generalized rage. But aggression could get you only so far before the depression caught up with it. There were many ways to torment a prisoner according to M.I.’s demands, and for the most part there was nothing funny about them.

“Smells,? Davis said. “Put them in a cell where the toilet is blocked—backed up. It smells like urine and crap. That would drive you nuts.? And you could keep shifting a prisoner’s mealtimes, or simply withhold meals. The prisoners ate the same M.R.E.s that the guards ate, but you could deny them the spoon and all the fixings. “If you got Salisbury steak, they got the Salisbury steak, not the rice that comes with it, not the hot sauce, not the snack, not the juice—the Salisbury steak, and that’s it,? Davis said. “They were starving by the time they’d get ready to get interrogated.? At that point, he said, it would be: “O.K., we’ll give you more food if you talk.?

And you could inflict pain. “You also had stress positions, and you escalated the stress positions,? Davis said. “Hand-cuffs behind their backs, high up, in very uncomfortable positions, or chained down. Then you had the submersion. You put the people in garbage cans, and you’d put ice in it, and water. Or stick them underneath the shower spigot naked. They’d be freezing.? It was a routine, he said: “Open a window while it was, like, forty degrees outside and watch them disappear into themselves . . . before they go into shock.?

Javal Davis had joined the Reserve in 1997, when he was in college. He was impressed by the R.O.T.C. drill he saw: “saluting, about-face—that looked kind of sharp, the rank and file, the order and everything.? He thought it was both an honor and honorable to serve his country, and he was willing to die protecting its freedom. “Especially after 9/11,? he said. He was born and raised in Roselle, New Jersey, across New York Harbor from the World Trade towers; he had won trophies in state championships in the hundred-and-ten-metre high hurdle, and he hoped one day to be a Roselle policeman or a New Jersey state trooper. “And to see that happen on my own soil,? he said. “It turned it up a notch.?

But after four or five nights of running the M.I. block of the Abu Ghraib hard site, Davis said, “I just wanted to go home.? He felt that what he did and saw there was wrong. “But it was reaffirmed and reassured through the leadership: We’re at war. This is Military Intelligence. This is what they do. And it’s just a job,? he said. “So, over time, you become numb to it, and it’s nothing. It just became the norm. You see it—that sucks. It sucks to be him. And that’s it. You move on.?

Sabrina Harman also said she felt herself growing numb at Abu Ghraib, yet she kept being startled by her capacity to feel fresh shocks. “In the beginning,? she said, “you see somebody naked and you see underwear on their head and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty bad—I can’t believe I just saw that.’ And then you go to bed and you come back the next day and you see something worse. Well, it seems like the day before wasn’t so bad.?

Harman was a runner on the night shift at the hard site, filling in where help was needed. “I really don’t remember the first day,? she said. “I remember the first day of working in Tier 1A and 1B. The first thing that I noticed was this guy—he had underwear on his head and he was handcuffed backwards to a window, and they were pretty much asking him questions. And then there was another guy who was fully dressed in another cell they were interrogating also, or I guess they had already interrogated. That’s the first time I started taking photos.? The prisoner with the underwear on his head was the one the M.P.s called Taxi Driver. He was naked, and the position he was in—his hands bound behind his back and raised higher than his shoulders, forcing him to bend forward with his head bowed and his weight suspended from his wrists—is known as a “Palestinian hanging,? because it is said to be used in Israeli prisons. Later that evening, Taxi Driver was moved to a bed, and Harman took another picture of him there. Then she saw another prisoner, lying on his bed fully dressed, and she photographed him, too.

As far as Harman knew at the time, nobody else had taken any pictures on Tier 1A, although later she saw one from a few days earlier of a naked man in the corridor, handcuffed to the bars of a cell door. She wasn’t surprised. By the end of Harman’s first night, three of the M.P.s had taken at least twenty-five photographs, and over the ensuing months the M.P.s on the night shift took hundreds more pictures on the M.I. block. The officer in charge of the block at night, Corporal Charles Graner, said that he made a point of showing his photographs to officers higher up the chain of command, and that nobody objected to what they saw. On the contrary, after a month on the job, and after showing scores of photographs of prisoners in torment to his superiors, Graner received a written assessment from his captain, a frequent visitor to the block, who said, “You are doing a fine job. . . . You have received many accolades from the M.I. units here.?

Most of the photographs from Harman’s first night show solitary naked prisoners in stress positions, cuffed to the bars of their cells or stretched and bent, forward or backward, over a bunk bed, with their hands bound to the far railing. Some of the prisoners are hooded with sandbags, some with underpants. One naked man is lying face down on a concrete floor. Several photographs show a row of prisoners in orange jumpsuits doing pushups in the hallway, and in one Staff Sergeant Ivan (Chip) Frederick—the night-shift officer in charge of the whole hard site—can be made out, in the background. Nobody in these photographs appears to be aware of the camera, and the pictures have the quality of stolen glimpses of men rendered into hellish statuary. Harman said that she began photographing what she saw because she found it hard to believe. “If I come up to you and I’m like, ‘Hey this is going on,’ you probably wouldn’t believe me unless I had something to show you,? she said. “So if I say, ‘Hey this is going on. Look, I have proof,’ you can’t deny it, I guess.? That was the impulse, she said. “Just show what was going on, what was allowed to be done.?

On the same night that she started shooting pictures at the hard site, Harman wrote home:

The days are long here, 12 hour shifts. The prison has been quiet for the past two nights. The night before that another IED went off. No one was killed but it destroyed another Hmvv.
None of our unit has been in the mix of the mortars or IEDs. Not yet. Im afraid to leave the prison to go south to use the phones, they plant those IEDs on the roads and set them off as you pass. The sound is unforgettable. . . .
The prisoners we have range from theft to murder of a US soldier. Until Redcross came we had prisoners the MI put in womens panties trying to get them to talk. Pretty funny but they say it was “cruel.? I don’t think so. No physical harm was done. We’ve even got Sadams sons body guard here. . . . Boy did he fail his job. It sucks working with the prisoners because they all have something wrong. We have people with rashes on their bodies and who-ever is in the cell with them start to get it. . . .
I spoke too soon, its 3am, there’s a firefight outside. Its never going to be calm here! We have guys with TB! That sucks cause we can catch that. Some have STDs. You name it. Its just dirty!
The food sucks. I live off cup o noodles, that’s my meals. The meals they serve are T-REX which is out of a box. If I do come home, boy am I going to eat!

The next night, Harman was back on duty with Charles Graner on the M.I. cellblock, and she wrote again:

October 20, 03—12:29am
The lights went out in the prison so here we were in the dark—in the prison. I have watch of the 18 and younger boys. I hear, misses! Misses! I go downstairs and flash my light on this 16 year old sitting down with his sandal smacking ants. Now these ants are Iraqi ants, LARGE! So large they could carry the family dog away while giving you the finger! LARGE. And this poor boy is being attacked by hundreds. All the ants in the prison came to this one boys cell and decided to take over. All I could do was spray Lysol. The ants laughed at me and kept going. So here we were the boy on one side of the cell and me on the other in the dark with one small flashlight beating ants with our shoes. . . . Poor kids. Those ants even Im scared of.
So that was the start of my shift. They’ve been stripping “the fucked up? prisoners and handcuffing them to the bars. Its pretty sad. I get to laugh at them and throw corn at them. I kind of feel bad for these guys even if they are accused of killing US soldiers. We degrade them but we don’t hit and thats a plus even though Im sure they wish we’d kill them. They sleep one hour then we yell and wake them—make them stay up for one hour, then sleep one hour—then up etc. This goes on for 72 hours while we fuck with them. Most have been so scared they piss on themselves. Its sad. It’s a little worst than Basic training ie: being naked and handcuffed. . . .
But pictures were taken, you have to see them! A sandbag was put over their heads while it was soaked in hot sauce. Okay, that’s bad but these guys have info, we are trying to get them to talk, that’s all, we don’t do this to all prisoners, just the few we have which is about 30-40 not many.
The othernight at 3, when I wrote you, the firefight . . . 3 killed 6 injured—Iraqis. . . .
Its time to wake them again!!!

And later that same day, on her next night shift, Harman wrote:

Oct 20, 03
Okay, I don’t like that anymore. At first it was funny but these people are going too far. I ended your letter last night because it was time to wake the MI prisoners and “mess with them? but it went too far even I can’t handle whats going on. I cant get it out of my head. I walk down stairs after blowing the whistle and beating on the cells with an asp to find “the taxicab driver? handcuffed backwards to his window naked with his underwear over his head and face. He looked like Jesus Christ. At first I had to laugh so I went on and grabbed the camera and took a picture. One of the guys took my asp and started “poking? at his dick. Again I thought, okay that’s funny then it hit me, that’s a form of molestation. You can’t do that. I took more pictures now to “record? what is going on. They started talking to this man and at first he was talking “I’m just a taxicab driver, I did nothing.? He claims he’d never try to hurt US soldiers that he picked up the wrong people. Then he stopped talking. They turned the lights out and slammed the door and left him there while they went down to cell #4. This man had been so fucked that when they grabbed his foot through the cell bars he began screaming and crying. After praying to Allah he moans a constant short Ah, Ah every few seconds for the rest of the night. I don’t know what they did to this guy. The first one remained handcuffed for maybe 1 ½-2 hours until he started yelling for Allah. So they went back in and handcuffed him to the top bunk on either side of the bed while he stood on the side. He was there for a little over an hour when he started yelling again for Allah. Not many people know this shit goes on. The only reason I want to be there is to get the pictures and prove that the US is not what they think. But I don’t know if I can take it mentally. What if that was me in their shoes. These people will be our future terrorist. Kelly, its awful and you know how fucked I am in the head. Both sides of me think its wrong. I thought I could handle anything. I was wrong.

Nobody called Sabrina Harman Mother Teresa at the Abu Ghraib hard site. But even on the Military Intelligence block she retained her reputation as the blithe spirit of the unit, obviously not a leader and yet never a true follower, either—more like a tagalong, the soldier who should never have been a soldier. In her letters from those first nights, as she described her reactions to the prisoners’ degradation and her part in it—ricocheting from childish mockery to casual swagger to sympathy to cruelty to titillation to self-justification to self-doubt to outrage to identification to despair—she managed to subtract herself from the scenes she sketched. By the end of her outpourings, she had repositioned herself as an outsider at Abu Ghraib, an observer and recorder, shaking her head, and in this way she preserved a sense of her own innocence.

Harman said that she had imagined herself producing an exposé—to “prove that the US is not what they think,? as she wrote to Kelly. The idea was abstract, and she had only a vague notion of how to see it through or what its consequences might be. She said she intended to give the photographs to the press after she got home and out of the Army. But she did not pretend to be a whistle-blower-in-waiting; rather, she wished to unburden herself of complicity in conduct that she considered wrong, without ascribing blame or making trouble for anyone in particular. At the outset, when she photographed what was being done to prisoners, she did not include other soldiers in the pictures. In these images, the soldiers, or the order they serve, are the unseen hand in the prisoners’ ordeal. As with crime-scene photographs, which show only victims, we are left to wonder: Who done it?

“I was trying to expose what was being allowed?—that phrase again—“what the military was allowing to happen to other people,? Harman said. In other words, she wanted to expose a policy; and by assuming the role of a documentarian she had found a way to ride out her time at Abu Ghraib without having to regard herself as an instrument of that policy. But it was not merely her choice to be a witness to the dirty work on Tier 1A: it was her role. As a woman, she was not expected to wrestle prisoners into stress positions or otherwise overpower them but, rather, just by her presence, to amplify their sense of powerlessness. She was there as an instrument of humiliation. The M.P.s knew very little about their Iraqi prisoners or the culture they came from, but at Fort Lee, before being deployed, they were given a session of “cultural awareness? training, from which they’d taken away the understanding—constantly reinforced by M.I. handlers—that Arab men were sexual prudes, with a particular hangup about being seen naked in public, especially by women. What better way to break an Arab, then, than to strip him, tie him up, and have a woman laugh at him? Taking pictures may have seemed an added dash of mortification, but to Harman it was a way of deflecting her own humiliation in the transaction, by acting as a spectator.

Her letters to Kelly functioned in the same way. “Maybe writing home was a release, to help me forget about what was happening,? she said. Then, moments later, she said, “I put everything down on paper that I was thinking. And if it weren’t for those letters, I don’t think I could even tell you anything that went on. That’s the only way I can remember things, is letters and photos.? The remarks sound contradictory, but Harman seemed to conceive of memory as an external storage device. By downloading her impressions to a document, she could clear them from her mind and transform reality into an artifact. After all, she said, that was how she experienced the things she did and saw done to prisoners on Tier 1A: “It seems like stuff like this only happened on TV. It’s not something you really thought was going on. At least I didn’t think it was going on. It’s just something that you watch and that is not real.?

Real or unreal, participant or bystander, degrader or degraded, overstimulated or numbed out—Harman may have meant no harm but she seemed to understand that in the malignant circumstances of the M.I. block she could not be entirely harmless. Unable or unwilling to reconcile her most disturbing and her most appealing actions and reactions, she equivocated. When she wrote of “both sides of me,? she said, “It was military and civilian—the tough side and the non-tough side. You battle out which one is more stronger, I guess. . . . You’re trained to be tough. I was right out of basic, and you’re just trained to do what you’re told, and to not let things affect you. You’re supposed to set all emotions aside, because this is war. I think it’s almost impossible. It is emotional.?

Megan Ambuhl, who was Harman’s roommate at Abu Ghraib, regarded her as a little sister, in need of protection. “She is just so naïve, but awesome,? she said. “A good person, but not always aware of the situation.? Harman called Ambuhl “Mommy,? and accepted the verdict of naïveté with equal measures of solace and regret. Harman wanted to be tough and she wanted to be nice, and she said, “I shouldn’t have been there. I mean obviously I didn’t do what I was supposed to. I couldn’t hit somebody. I can’t stomach that ever. I don’t like to watch people get hit. I get sick. I know it’s kind of weird that I can see a dead person, but I don’t like actual violence. I didn’t like taking away their blankets when it was really cold. Because if I’m freezing and I’m wearing a jacket and a hat and gloves, and these people don’t have anything on and no blanket, no mattress, that’s kind of hard to see and do to somebody—even if they are a terrorist.? In fact, she said, “I really didn’t see them as prisoners there. I just saw them as people that were pretty much in the same situation I was, just trapped in Abu Ghraib.? And she said, “I told them that we were prisoners also. So we felt how they were feeling.?

It was easier to be nice to the women and children on Tier 1B, but, Harman said, “It was kind of sad that they even had to be there.? The youngest prisoner on the tier was just ten years old—“a little kid,? she said. “He could have fit through the bars, he was so little.? Like a number of the other kids and of the women there, he was being held as a pawn in the military’s effort to capture or break his father.

Harman enjoyed spending time with the kids. She let them out to run around the tier in a pack, kicking a soccer ball, and she enlisted them to help sweep the tier and distribute meals—special privileges, reserved only for the most favored prisoners on the M.I. block. “They were fun,? she said. “They made the time go by faster.? She didn’t like seeing children in prison “for no reason, just because of who your father was,? but she didn’t dwell on that. What was the point? “You can’t feel because you’ll just go crazy, so you just kind of blow it off,? Harman said. “You can only make their stay a little bit acceptable, I guess. You give them all the candy from the M.R.E.s to make their time go by better. But there’s only so much you can do or so much you can feel.?

On Tier 1A, Harman liked to sneak cigarettes and doses of Tylenol or ibuprofen to prisoners who were being given a hard time. These small gestures gave her comfort, too, and it pleased her that prisoners sometimes turned to her for help. But Harman was generally as forgiving of her buddies as she was of herself. When toughness failed her, and niceness was not an option, Harman took refuge in denial. “That’s the only way to get through each day, is to start blocking things out,? she said. “Just forget what happened. You go to bed, and then you have the next day to worry about. It’s another day closer to home. Then that day’s over, and you just block that one out.? At the same time, she faulted herself for not being a more enthusiastic soldier when prisoners on Tier 1A were being given the business. When she was asked how other M.P.s could go at it without apparent inhibition, all she could say was “They’re more patriotic.?

One night in the first week of November, 2003, an agent of the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division—an agency sometimes described as the military’s F.B.I.—came to the M.I. block to interrogate a new prisoner, an Iraqi suspected of involvement in the deaths of American soldiers. The story, as the M.P.s understood it, was that the prisoner kept giving a false name and insisting that he was not who the C.I.D. said he was. He was given the nickname Gilligan and subjected to the standard treatment: the yelling, the P.T., the sleep deprivation. Graner, who took charge of Gilligan’s harassment, gave him a cardboard box—an M.R.E. carton—which he was ordered to carry around or to stand on for long stretches. Gilligan was hooded, and normally he would have been naked, too, but, because of the cold, Graner had cut a hole in a prison blanket and draped it over him like a poncho. Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick later told Army investigators that he asked the C.I.D. man—whom he identified as Agent Romero—about Gilligan, and that Romero said, “I don’t give a fuck what you do to him, just don’t kill them.?

Frederick said that he took Romero’s words “like an order, but not a specific order,? and he explained, “To me, Agent Romero was like an authority figure, and when he said he needed the detainee stressed out I wanted to make sure the detainee was stressed out.? Frederick found Gilligan where Graner had left him, perched on his box in the shower room of Tier 1A. “There were a lot of detainees that were forced to stand on boxes,? he said. Behind Gilligan, he noticed some loose electrical wires hanging from the wall. “I grabbed them and touched them together to make sure they weren’t live wires,? he said. “When I did that and got nothing, I tied a loop knot on the end, put it on, I believe, his index finger, and left it there.? Frederick said that somebody then tied a wire to Gilligan’s other hand and Harman said, “I told him not to fall off, that he would be electrocuted if he did.?

Harman had been busy for much of the night, keeping awake the prisoner they called the Claw, and attending to another one they called Shitboy, a maniac on Tier 1B who had the habit of smearing himself with his feces and hurling it at passing guards. She was taking a break when she joined the others in the shower room, and although Gilligan understood English, she wasn’t sure if he believed her threat. Besides, the whole mock-electrocution business had not lasted more than ten or fifteen minutes—just long enough for a photo session. “I knew he wouldn’t be electrocuted,? she said. “So it really didn’t bother me. I mean, it was just words. There was really no action in it. It would have been meaner if there really was electricity coming out, and he really could be electrocuted. No physical harm was ever done to him.? In fact, she said, “He was laughing at us towards the end of the night, maybe because he knew we couldn’t break him.?

Once the wires were attached to Gilligan, Frederick had stepped back, instructed Gilligan to hold his arms out straight from his sides, like wings, and taken a picture. Then he took another, identical to the first: the hooded man, in his blanket poncho, barefoot atop his box, arms outstretched, wires trailing from his fingers. Snap, snap—two seconds—and three minutes later Harman took a similar shot, but from a few steps back, so that Frederick appears in the foreground at the edge of the frame, studying on the display screen of his camera the picture he’s just taken.

These were not the first photographs taken on the block that night, or the last. That afternoon, when the night shift M.P.s reported for duty at the hard site, their platoon commander had called them to a meeting. “He said there was a prisoner who had died in the shower, and he died of a heart attack,? Harman said. The body had been left in the shower on Tier 1B, packed in ice, and shortly after the session with Gilligan somebody noticed water trickling out from under the shower door.

As Harman entered the shower room, she snapped a picture of a black rubber body bag lying along the far wall. Then she and Graner, their hands sheathed in turquoise latex surgical gloves, unzipped the bag. “We just checked him out and took photos of him—kind of realized right away that there was no way he died of a heart attack because of all the cuts and blood coming out of his nose,? she said, and she added, “You don’t think your commander’s going to lie to you about something. It made my trust go down, that’s for sure. Well, you can’t trust your commander now.?

Translucent plastic ice bags covered the dead prisoner from the neck down, but his battered, bandaged face was exposed—mouth agape as if in mid-speech. Harman, the aspiring forensic photographer, shot him from a variety of angles, zooming in and out, while Charles Graner swabbed the floor. When he was done, he took a photograph of Harman posing with the corpse, bending low into the frame, flashing her Kodak smile, and giving the thumbs-up with one gloved hand; and she used his camera to take a similar shot of him. After about seven minutes in the shower room, she zipped the body bag shut, and they left.

“I guess we weren’t really thinking, Hey, this guy has family, or, Hey, this guy was just murdered,? Harman said. “It was just—Hey, it’s a dead guy, it’d be cool to get a photo next to a dead person. I know it looks bad. I mean, even when I look at them, I go, ‘Oh Jesus, that does look pretty bad.’ But when we were in that situation it wasn’t as bad as it looks coming out on the media, I guess, because people have photos of all kinds of things. Like, if a soldier sees somebody dead, normally they’ll take photos of it.?

Harman might more accurately have said that it’s not unusual to take such pictures. Soldiers have always swapped crazy war stories—whether to boast or confess, to moralize or titillate—and the uncritical response of other soldiers at Abu Ghraib to the photographs from the night shift on the M.I. block suggests that they were seen as belonging to this comradely tradition. Javal Davis took no photographs there and he appeared in none, but he said, “Everyone in theatre had a digital camera. Everyone was taking pictures of everything, from detainees to death.? He said, “That was nothing, like in Vietnam where guys were taking pictures of the dead guy with a cigarette in his mouth. Like, Hey, Mom, look. It sounds sick, but over there that was commonplace, it was nothing. I mean, when you’re surrounded by death and carnage and violence twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, it absorbs you. You walk down the street and you see a dead body on the road, whereas a couple months ago, you would have been like, ‘Oh, my God, a dead body,’ today you’re like, ‘Damn, he got messed up, let’s go get something to eat.’ You could watch someone running down the street burning on fire, as long as it’s not an American soldier, it’s ‘Somebody needs to go put that guy out.’ ?

The pictures of Harman and Graner with the corpse may have been taken as a gag—“for personal use,? as Frederick said of his photos of Gilligan—but they are starkly at odds with Harman’s claim of a larger documentary purpose. By contrast, her grisly, intimate portraits of the corpse convey her shock at discovering its wreckage; and later that evening Harman returned to the shower with Frederick to examine the body more carefully. This time, she looked beneath the ice bags and peeled back the bandages, and she stayed out of the pictures.

“I just started taking photos of everything I saw that was wrong, every little bruise and cut,? Harman said. “His knees were bruised, his thighs were bruised by his genitals. He had restraint marks on his wrists. You had to look close. I mean, they did a really good job cleaning him up.? She said, “The gauze on his eye was put there after he died to make it look like he had medical treatment, because he didn’t when he came into the prison.? She said, “There were so many things around the bandage, like the blood coming out of his nose and his ears. And his tooth was chipped—I didn’t know if that happened there or before—his lip was split open, and it looked like somebody had either butt-stocked him or really got him good or hit him against the wall. It was a pretty good-sized gash. I took a photo of that as well.? She said, “I just wanted to document everything I saw. That was the reason I took photos.? She said, “It was to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.?

The next morning, after nearly thirty hours in the shower, the corpse was removed from the tier disguised as a sick prisoner: draped with a blanket, taped to an I.V., and rolled away on a gurney. Hydrue Joyner was reminded of the Hollywood farce “Weekend at Bernie’s,? in which two corporate climbers treat their murdered boss as a puppet, pretending he’s alive to avoid suspicion in his death. “I was thinking to myself, Un-freaking-believable. But this came from on high,? Joyner said of the charade with the I.V. “I took it as they didn’t want any of the prisoners thinking we were in there killing folks.? Joyner referred to the dead man as Bernie, but Army investigators soon identified him as a suspected insurgent named Manadel al-Jamadi. He was alleged to have provided explosives for the bombing that blew up the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad a week before his arrest, and he had died while under interrogation by a C.I.A. agent. Within the week that followed, an autopsy concluded that Jamadi had succumbed to “blunt force injuries? and “compromised respiration?; and his death was classified as a homicide.

Jamadi’s C.I.A. interrogator has never been charged with a crime. But Sabrina Harman was. As a result of the pictures she took and appeared in at Abu Ghraib, she was convicted by court-martial, in May of 2005, of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, dereliction of duty, and maltreatment, and sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank, and a bad-conduct discharge. Megan Ambuhl, Javal Davis, Chip Frederick, Charles Graner, and Jeremy Sivits were among the handful of other soldiers who, on account of the photographs, were also sentenced to punishments ranging from a reduction in rank and a loss of pay to ten years in prison. The only person ranked above staff sergeant to face a court-martial was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. No one has ever been charged for abuses at the prison that were not photographed. Originally, Harman’s charges included several counts pertaining to her pictures of Jamadi, but these were never brought to trial. The pictures constituted the first public evidence that the man had been killed during an interrogation at Abu Ghraib, and Harman said, “They tried to charge me with destruction of government property, which I don’t understand. And then maltreatment for taking the photos of a dead guy. But he’s dead. I don’t know how that’s maltreatment. And then altering evidence for removing the bandage from his eye to take a photo of it and then I placed it back. When he died, they cleaned him all up and then stuck the bandages on. So it’s not really altering evidence. They had already done that for me. But in order to make the charges stick they were going to have to bring in the photos, which they didn’t want, because obviously they covered up a murder and that would just make them look bad. So they dropped all the charges pertaining to the guy in the shower.?

As for Gilligan, the Criminal Investigation Department determined that he was not, after all, who he had been suspected of being during his ordeal. “So all of that, and the poor guy was innocent,? Harman said. He remained on Tier 1A and soon became one of the M.P.s’ favorite prisoners. Gilligan was given the privileged status of a block worker, and was regularly let out of his cell to help with the cleaning. Megan Ambuhl called him “pretty decent,? and said she had a picture of him sharing a meal and a smoke with Charles Graner. Sabrina Harman said, “He was just a funny, funny guy. If you’re going to take someone home, I definitely would have taken him.?

Under the circumstances, Harman was baffled that the figure of Gilligan—hooded, caped, and wired on his box—had eventually become the icon of Abu Ghraib and possibly the most recognized emblem of the war on terror after the World Trade towers. The image had proliferated around the globe in uncountable reproductions and representations—in the press, but also on murals and placards, T-shirts and billboards, on mosque walls and in art galleries. Harman had even acquired a Gilligan tattoo on one arm, but she considered that a private souvenir. It was the public’s fascination with the photograph of Gilligan—of all the images from Abu Ghraib—that she couldn’t fathom. “There’s so many worse photos out there. I mean, nothing negative happened to him, really,? she said. “I think they thought he was being tortured, which he wasn’t.?

Harman was right: there were worse pictures than Gilligan. But, leaving aside that photographs of death and nudity, however newsworthy, don’t get much play in the press, the power of an image does not necessarily lie in what it depicts. A photograph of a mangled cadaver, or of a naked man trussed in torment, can shock and outrage, provoke protest and investigation, but it leaves little to the imagination. It may be rich in practical information, while being devoid of any broader meaning. To the extent that it represents any circumstances or conditions beyond itself, it does so generically. Such photographs are repellent, in large part because they have a terrible, reductive sameness. Except from a forensic point of view, they are unambiguous, and have the quality of pornography. They are what they show, nothing more. They communicate no vision and, shorn of context, they offer little, if anything, to think about, no occasion for wonder. They have no value as symbols.

Of course, the dominant symbol of Western civilization is the figure of a nearly naked man, tortured to death—or, more simply, the torture implement itself, the cross. But our pictures of the savage death of Jesus are the product of religious imagination and idealization. In reality, he must have been ghastly to behold. Had there been cameras at Calvary, would twenty centuries of believers have been moved to hang photographs of the scene on their altarpieces and in their homes?

The image of Gilligan achieves its power from the fact that it does not show the human form laid bare and reduced to raw matter but creates instead an original image of inhumanity that admits no immediately self-evident reading. Its fascination resides, in large part, in its mystery and inscrutability—in all that is concealed by all that it reveals. It is an image of carnival weirdness: this upright body shrouded from head to foot; those wires; that pose; and the peaked hood that carries so many vague and ghoulish associations. The pose is obviously contrived and theatrical, a deliberate invention that appears to belong to some dark ritual, a primal scene of martyrdom. The picture transfixes us because it looks like the truth, but, looking at it, we can only imagine what that truth is: torture, execution, a scene staged for the camera? So we seize on the figure of Gilligan as a symbol that stands for all that we know was wrong at Abu Ghraib and all that we cannot—or do not want to—understand about how it came to this. ♦

March 17, 2008

When Girls Will Be Boys

New York Times
March 16, 2008
When Girls Will Be Boys

It was late on a rainy fall day, and a college freshman named Rey was showing me the new tattoo on his arm. It commemorated his 500-mile hike through Europe the previous summer, which happened also to be, he said, the last time he was happy. We sat together for a while in his room talking, his tattoo of a piece with his spiky brown hair, oversize tribal earrings and very baggy jeans. He showed me a photo of himself and his girlfriend kissing, pointed out his small drum kit, a bass guitar that lay next to his rumpled clothes and towels and empty bottles of green tea, one full of dried flowers, and the ink self-portraits and drawings of nudes that he had tacked to the walls. Thick jasmine incense competed with his cigarette smoke. He changed the music on his laptop with the melancholy, slightly startled air of a college boy on his own for the first time.

Rey’s story, though, had some unusual dimensions. The elite college he began attending last year in New York City, with its academically competitive, fresh-faced students, happened to be a women’s school, Barnard. That’s because when Rey first entered the freshman class, he was a woman.

Rey, who asked that neither his last name nor his given name be used to protect his and his family’s privacy, grew up in Chappaqua, the affluent Westchester suburb that is home to the Clintons, and had a relatively ordinary, middle-class Jewish childhood. Rey, as he now calls himself, loved his younger brother, his parents were together and he was a good student, excelling in English and history. But he always had the distinct feeling that he wasn’t the sex he was supposed to be. As a kid, he was often mistaken for a boy, which was “mostly cool,? Rey said. “When I was 5, I told my parents not to correct people when strangers thought I was a boy. I was never a girl, really — I questioned my own gender, and other people also questioned my gender for me.? When Rey entered puberty, he felt the loss of the “tomboy? sobriquet acutely.

“My body changed in freshman year of high school, and it made me depressed,? Rey said. That year, he started to wonder whether he was really meant to become a woman. His friends in high school were almost all skater boys and musicians, and he related to them as if he were one of them. He began to define himself as “omnisexual,? although he was mostly attracted to women.

The idea that he might actually want to transition from female to male began to take shape for Rey when he was 14 or 15; he can’t quite remember when exactly. “A transmale speaker guy? gave a talk at a meeting of his high school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and Rey was inspired. Then he took a typical step for someone going to high school in the first years of this century. He went home and typed “transgender? into Google.

At the end of his freshman year in high school, he met Melissa, a student at Smith College who was back in Westchester for summer break and later became his girlfriend. During one of their days together, Melissa, who was immersed in campus gender activism, mentioned the concept of being a “transman? and spoke of her transmale friends. Rey confided his questions about his gender identity to her, and she encouraged him to explore them further. For most of high school, Rey spent hours online reading about transgendered people and their lives. “The Internet is the best thing for trans people,? he said. “Living in the suburbs, online groups were an access point.? He also started reading memoirs of transgendered people. He asked Melissa to explain the gender theory she was learning in college.

In his senior year, he took on the name Rey. At 17, he finally felt ready to come out as trans to his family, who according to Rey struggled to understand his new identity. Around that time, he also visited a clinic in Manhattan, hoping to start hormone therapy. He was told that unless he wanted his parents involved in the process, he’d have to wait until he was 18. In the meantime, Rey began to apply to colleges. He wanted to go to “a hippie school,? as he put it, yet he felt pressure to choose a school like Barnard that hewed to an Ivy League profile. Though he decided on Barnard, he still planned to start on testosterone as soon as he turned 18. When I asked him why he wanted to start hormone therapy so soon, he replied simply, “You live your life and you feel like a boy.? Of course, living life like a boy is not what an elite women’s college has historically been about.

At 18, Rey is part of a growing population of transgender students at the nation’s colleges and universities. While still a rarity, young women who become men in college, also known as transmen or transmales, have grown in number over the last 10 years. According to Brett-Genny Janiczek Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied trans students on college campuses, adults who wished to transition historically did so in middle age. Today a larger percentage of transitions occur in adolescence or young adulthood. The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that between a quarter of a percent and 1 percent of the U.S. population is transgender — up to three million Americans — though other estimates are lower and precise figures are difficult to come by. Still, the growing number of young people who transition when they are teenagers or very young adults has placed a new pressure on colleges, especially women’s colleges, to accommodate them.

The number of young people who openly identify as transgendered has grown for a few reasons. Some parents of young children who are “gender nonconforming? — usually children who identify psychologically with the opposite sex but also children who have hermaphroditic traits, like indeterminate sex organs — now allow their kids to choose whether they are referred to as “he? or “she? and whether to wear boys’ or girls’ clothing. And some of these parents, under a doctor’s supervision, have even begun to administer hormone blockers to prevent the arrival of secondary sex characteristics until a “gender variant? child is old enough to make permanent choices. The Internet also offers greater access to information about transmale and gender-variant identities.

In addition, 147 colleges and universities nationwide now include “gender identity and expression? in their nondiscrimination policies, and students will often use gender-neutral pronouns like “ze? and “hir? — especially if they post on campus message boards. At Wesleyan last year, students initiated a survey of bathrooms, checking to see if they were transgender-friendly — open to all sexes. Many colleges now have Transgender Days of Remembrance in memory of victims of gender-identity-related hate crimes. Students at the University of Vermont hold a yearly “Translating Identity Conference? for trans college students that draws hundreds of people from around the country. The increasing number of trans college students has even given rise to a surprisingly deft reality television show, “Transgeneration,? on the Sundance Channel, which featured a transmale student at Smith College.

The conventional thinking is that trans people feel they are “born in the wrong body.? But today many students who identify as trans are seeking not simply to change their sex but to create an identity outside or between established genders — they may refuse to use any gender pronouns whatsoever or take a gender-neutral name but never modify their bodies chemically or surgically. These students are also considered part of the trans community, though they are known as either gender nonconforming or genderqueer rather than transmen or transmale.

At many of America’s first-tier women’s colleges, the growth of the trans community has led to campus workshops on transgender identity. According to students at Smith, a good number of restrooms have been made over as “gender neutral.? And some professors make sure to ask students to fill out slips indicating their preferred names and pronouns. Students at several women’s colleges have also created trans groups to reflect their experiences and political views. According to one transmale student I talked to at Wellesley, there are at least 15 gender-nonconforming students at the college, ranging from full-on trans to genderqueer, who have formed their own group. Other women’s colleges, like Smith, have in the last few years had on-campus gender-nonconforming groups with up to 30 members, more than 1 percent of that school’s population.

Which doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes a struggle to be trans or gender-nonconforming on campus. Many trans students feel themselves to be excluded or isolated at women’s schools and at coed colleges. Some talk of being razzed or insulted by fellow students. And even within a college’s gender-nonconforming population, students are often divided among those who define themselves as men but don’t transition medically, those who do and those who prefer not to define themselves as either male or female.

These difficulties are a natural part of being a minority that is still fighting for acceptance. But trans students’ problems can also be institutional. The presence of trans students at women’s colleges can’t help raising the question of whether — or to what degree — these colleges can serve students who no longer see themselves as women.

From his first week at Barnard, Rey told me, he felt he was struggling. The women on campus seemed to Rey to be socially conservative and archly feminine, and he felt he had to seek solace elsewhere. At the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in downtown Manhattan — the medical facility for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that he visited while he was still in high school — he began to get biweekly testosterone “T? shots (he turned 18 in September). Rey had psychological counseling elsewhere first; typically a letter of referral from a mental-health professional is required before anyone between 18 and 24 can receive hormone therapy. Rey also began to bind his breasts. But binding hurt, he said; it made it hard for him to breathe. He especially hated “having to alter your body every morning so you can go through the world and people will accept you.?

But as a transmale student in a sea of women at Barnard, he felt alone. He longed to be with his girlfriend, Melissa, and with transmale friends, some of whom, like Rey, were attending women’s colleges. Even as he sought to adopt a more conventionally male appearance, he wanted to maintain his ties with his former self. “I am all for not rubbing out my past as female,? he told me.

But it was not to be that simple. As a transmale college student, he was something of a pioneer. And he began to hit some walls.

In the first week of September, he found out that his roommates had complained to the college’s freshman housing director about being asked to share their rooms with a man. They wanted Rey to find somewhere else to live. According to Dorothy Denburg, the dean who spoke to Rey about the situation, these young women were disturbed when Rey told them on the first day “that he was a transboy and wanted to be referred to by male pronouns.? Rey’s roommates had, after all, chosen to attend a women’s college in order to live and be educated in the company of other women. Barnard doesn’t have singles for freshmen. As Rey saw it, he was simply shut out by his two roommates — and by the rest of the school. A week after learning of his roommates’ disapproval, Rey, together with the dean and his parents, decided that Rey should transfer to Columbia’s School of General Studies.

Rey felt lost. He slept on people’s couches and stayed with one friend, a Columbia student and fellow trans activist, for a week. The story of his rooming travails ultimately wound up on the gossip pages of The New York Post. The Post squib cast Rey as an infiltrator in one of the last girls-with-pearls bastions.

“They were very typical feminine girls,? explained Rey. “I didn’t fit in. It’s why I didn’t hang out with straight girls for most of high school — I hung out with queer women. Around the Barnard women, I felt extremely other.?

Rey described the days that followed as “the worst semester ever.? As his new hormone regime began to take effect, he started to go through male puberty, which meant increased bone mass and a deepening voice and facial hair. He struggled to lead the normal life of an arty college student: eating vegan, going to clubs, keeping his grades up. Only recently, Rey says, has his life brightened. Indeed the transformation from the person he was to who he has become is startling. The second time we met, on a street corner near Columbia in Upper Manhattan, was a cold but sunny day in January, and Rey was aglow, smiling and laughing. Accompanied by his girlfriend, Melissa, now a graceful college senior, he greeted me with a hug.

The reason for this cheer, he said, was that he finally felt on the way to becoming who he really is. The testosterone shots he had received every other week since October had lowered his voice a few octaves. He was in the process of legally changing his name to a male name, although he couldn’t decide whether to go casual (Rey) or Old Testament (Asher). And in December Rey underwent what he called “chest reconstruction surgery,? also known as “top surgery,? which he paid for out of pocket.

Melissa helped Rey through it, feeding him antibiotics and massaging his postsurgery chest with arnica cream. He joined a campus trans organization, GendeRevolution. In a few short months, he had become a full-blown activist. He quit smoking. To cap it off, he was bar-mitzvahed in Israel in January. He’d had his bat mitzvah at 13, but as Rey put it, he didn’t feel “connected to the experience.? He was bar-mitzvahed without his parents in attendance, but he took the rite of passage to heart. After all, at 13 he’d become a woman. Now, at 18, he was a man.

Despite the seriousness of the issues Rey has dealt with, all in such a short time, he often seemed like a giddy teenager, probably because he still was one. Clad in his usual uniform of baggy pants and a B-Boy cap covered with images of euros, he gossiped about his friends, music, sex and food, from time to time throwing his arm around Melissa, who is pixielike, slim and Rey’s height — a little over five feet. She was wearing skinny jeans and ballet flats. She was so supportive of Rey’s transformation that she was taken aback when I asked if his period of postoperative recovery had been hard for her.

“He’s so much happier now,? she said. Even though Melissa always defined herself as a lesbian, she said her partner’s transition made sense to her. Part of the couple’s sangfroid is generational — she and Rey see themselves as genderqueer rather than gay. For them, sexual orientation is fluid. Like some of their peers, Melissa and Rey want to be — and sometimes imagine they already are — part of the first generation to transcend gender.

On the face of it, it’s not surprising that students like Rey would choose to attend a women’s college. Same-sex colleges have always been test beds for transformations among American women. Set up as places where women could flourish without men, colleges like Barnard, Wellesley, Smith and Mount Holyoke have always had dual personalities, serving both as finishing schools and as incubators of American feminism. Smith College’s alumnae include not only Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan but also Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Catharine MacKinnon.

The schools that decided to remain single-sex in the 1970s, when many colleges around the country went coed, represented a significant and even controversial challenge to liberal ideas about gender equality. And in refashioning their identities for the time, many became loci for the interrogation of gender roles. It was, after all, at all-female schools that many young women first began to question the very notion of femininity. And this questioning found echoes in the curriculum. Scholars like Esther Newton, Gayle Rubin, Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Butler ushered in an era that reconceived gender as a social construct, distinct from both a person’s sex and sexuality. For Butler and others, femaleness did not automatically produce femininity and maleness did not produce masculinity: gender was fluid and variable, something to be fashioned, and could shift in character depending on the culture or the time period. As some see it, the presence of trans students at single-sex colleges is simply a logical extension of this intellectual tradition.

Indeed, as one transmale student I spoke to at Wellesley pointed out, women’s colleges are uniquely suited to transgender students. “There’s no safer place for transmen to be than a women’s college because there’s no actual physical threat to us,? he told me, adding, “I have more in common with women because of that shared experience than I do with men.? And even though Rey chose to leave Barnard for a coed school, he also says that women’s schools can — and should — act as havens for transmale students, that they are, in fact, natural beacons for trans people, because “feminists and trans activists are both interested in gender.?

In a sense, transgender and genderqueer students could be said merely to be holding women’s colleges to their word: to fully support women’s exploration of gender, even if that exploration ends with students no longer being female-identified. As Judith Halberstam, a professor of English and gender studies at the University of Southern California and the author of “Female Masculinity,? put it, feminist theory offers students a way to think about gender as performance, to create a trans self or a genderqueer one — and give that self contours, definition — in a way that was simply unavailable 30 years ago. Indeed, Rey discovered his own trans identity reading queer theory, and even transitioning to be a man hasn’t changed his core sense of himself. “I’m still queer even though I am a man now — it’s the beauty of the term,? Rey said.

“I think gender is a spectrum — gender is more complicated than sex,? Rey continued. He sees everyone, and not just transmen, as having “their own gender,? just as they might have their own personality or temperament. Rey’s point isn’t merely academic. A good number of gender nonconforming students I spoke to at women’s colleges agreed with him. Most did not have operations but rather defined gender simply by how they experienced it, seeing themselves as existing on a “gender continuum? with their more conventionally feminine college friends. I met with one such student, Jordan Akerley, a 22-year-old senior at Wellesley. As we sat in the student-run on-campus cafe where Akerley works, Akerely explained what it is like to live out a theory of identity that doesn’t exactly conform to one gender or the other.

“I find pronouns cumbersome and self-limiting,? Akerley told me, which is why friends use the name Jordan, a name that Akerley says she intends to make official this year. Akerley, a co-captain of the school’s soccer team, takes no hormones and has no plans to have an operation. Akerley’s look and entire manner is quite unremarkable, even conservative: hair combed in a modified Tin Tin do, sporty, plain cotton shirt, jeans and sneakers. The only sign of an “alternative? or outsider identity — other than appearing masculine enough to be frequently mistaken on campus for a female student’s boyfriend — is Akerley’s eyebrow ring. Akerley’s affect could be that of an aspiring politician: amiable, physically attractive, clean cut, inoffensive and articulate.

“My identity is fluid; it may evolve and fluctuate,? Akerley explained. “My preference is not to use gender pronouns. My work is not always grammatically correct because of the lack of pronouns.?

Though women’s colleges may seem a haven for trans or gender-nonconforming students, accommodating such students requires balancing a complex set of needs and expectations — inside and outside the college. Barnard, like many women’s colleges, has an admissions policy of accepting only “legal? women. The college’s president, Judith Shapiro, who wrote an article on transsexualism in the 1980s, is clearly sympathetic to the trans population in general, but when I spoke to her she wondered aloud why a transmale or male-identified student “would want to be in a woman’s college.? She went on to explain her position this way: “Having been very involved in second-wave feminism, I am interested in gender revolutionaries, but I still think gender is a major category in our society.? In many ways, Shapiro could be said to represent the position women’s colleges now find themselves in: caught between wanting to embrace a campus minority that their own interrogation of gender roles has helped to shape and defending the value of institutions centered on the distinct experience of being female.

Colleges must also navigate the attitudes and expectations of their alumnae. While some alumnae have readily accepted the presence of trans students on their campuses, others, like Suzanne Corriell and Regis Ahern, graduates of Mount Holyoke, see it as a betrayal of the foundational principles of their alma mater. Corriell and Ahern recently wrote an angry letter to The Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, charging that admitting transmale students was, in effect, a way of “passively going coed? and that the “lifestyle choices? of these students was a bald negation of a women’s college charter. Trans students, they wrote, were simply “men seeking to take advantage of Mount Holyoke’s liberal and accepting atmosphere.?

When I called Corriell, who is 28, at the law library at the University of Richmond, where she works, she explained her feelings to me this way: “I am a strong believer in women’s education, and I think the colleges are a dying breed that need protection. I respect their agenda, which is educating women.? She paused, then said: “Educating trans students in a same-sex residential community produces difficulty — when a student no longer identifies as a woman, the privilege to attend these schools is lost. Men have lots of schools they can go to — why must transmen go to women’s schools??

Of course, many trans students identify first as women — as lesbians or feminist activists. They are attracted to women’s schools precisely because of their reputation as safe harbors for exploring these identities. As a result, many transmale students apply to women’s schools and attend them before they have fully come out as “gender nonconforming? — and this is likely to be the case for years to come.

Denburg, the Barnard dean, acknowledges that women’s colleges have always been places “where women can explore definitions and dimensions of gender.? But it is only in the last five years of her tenure as dean, she says, that she has encountered transmale students. She had, she said, no objection to Rey’s attending Barnard. The school has helped other gender-nonconforming students, among them a resident adviser in his senior year, who had to inform his female dorm mates about his gender transition over the summer. Denburg described her work with these students “as an educational journey for me as well, that has helped me to better understand the drive of someone who feels they are in the wrong body.?

That said, Barnard does not have the kind of groups for trans students or awareness campaigns and gender-neutral bathrooms that some of the other women’s colleges do. And it has not been as affiliated with women’s and gender activism as some of its sister schools. Rey’s case, as Denburg put it, “caught us off guard,? mostly because administrators had never encountered a student who wanted to transition physically at such a young age. To Denburg, 18 still seems very young for such a decision.

Many people would agree that going on hormones carries risks: there are few studies on the long-term effects of hormone therapies on transmen. Some transmen in their 20s and 30s have told me they worry about the hormones’ potential side effects — an increase in “bad? cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke. For transmen, finding appropriate health care is complicated by the fact that student health services typically need to refer such students to outside clinics or hospitals for their care — and transmen may need additional insurance or be required to bear at least some of the medical costs themselves.

Rey always expected to go off-campus for his transition. He wound up being operated on by a private surgeon in New York City. (He received no “bottom surgery,? as it is known — few transmen do, in part because the operation is thought to be too rudimentary and in part because many transmen view it as unnecessary.) While many gender-nonconforming students don’t have “top surgery? in their freshman years, they may still struggle with their colleges’ medical services, not because they want specialized treatments but because they want health care that is sensitive to their new identities. As one gender-noncomforming student complained to me, he hated that health services insisted on treating him “like a girl.?

Colleges, trans activists and advocates say, are even less prepared for advising students on how their gender-variant identities may affect their futures, including their professional lives. After all, many states don’t have protection for gender-nonconforming people in the workplace, and “gender identity? was recently dropped from the 2007 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. “There’s no professional development for trans kids at colleges,? said Shannon Sennott, a founder of Translate, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit group that holds workshops on trans awareness at women’s colleges. “The majority disappear into big cities, working as bartenders with advanced degrees because there’s real prejudice against trans workers.? Hadley Smith, a recent Wellesley graduate and a Translate founder who describes himself as gender-nonconforming, said that unemployment or limited employment is par for the course for many transgendered people, but those limits may seem starker when high-achieving graduates from educationally competitive schools like Smith College feel, out of fear of discriminating employers, that they have to abandon, at least temporarily, their professional aspirations.

Some transmale students ultimately go “stealth? after graduation, not mentioning their earlier lives as women. When I asked Rey how he hoped to handle it, he said he had no intention of hiding and was planning to be out as a transman for the rest of his life. With all the bravado of youth, he said: “I won’t get a career that I can’t be out and trans in. I’m not planning to go into business.

“I’ve learned not to try to see my future — to do the best I can in the space I am in,? he continued, and then added shyly, “I would like to, you know, make public art.?

On a winter afternoon, I visited Rey at his new workplace at Columbia University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, where he was organizing a series of trans awareness events on campus. Rey was being paid by the college to create the series, and at the moment he had two chores on his list: booking a transmale photographer as a speaker and creating signage for gender-neutral bathrooms. To achieve the latter, Rey was busy sketching possible new symbols. Melissa, his girlfriend, was helping him. First they turned the familiar female stick figure into a rocket ship, making her legs into a flame. Rey created a few variations of the sign with a ballpoint pen. Then he drew a confused-looking person standing in front of both a male and a female bathroom, not knowing which one to pick. Next, he tried a single circle with the male and female symbols attached to it. Melissa laughed mockingly at the drawing of the confused man, but she nodded her head in approval at the two other symbols.

The dynamic between the two is often like this — teasingly supportive. Earlier at lunch, Melissa joked about whether they were even in a relationship, “I’m not sure: Rey doesn’t do labels.? Then she told Rey, “I’ve saved 20 voice mails of your voice changing over the last four months.? He looked at her adoringly as they ate French fries in sync: Melissa was not only his girlfriend but also the historian of his identity.

“Before I was on hormones, people would get confused when I spoke over the phone — they thought I was male, and then they’d start asking questions about how old I was,? Rey said. “I didn’t want to stay a prepubescent boy.?

When talk turned to the couple’s plans for the future, Melissa was more concerned about Rey leaving “wet towels on the floor,? she said, and “tracking mud in the house? than about his medical transition. His lack of housekeeping skills was particularly on her mind, since the two are planning to move in together over the summer. “We’ll stay together,? Melissa said. “That’s unless you go gay . . . again.? She laughed. She was talking about the possibility of Rey’s coming out a second time — going from being a woman who loves women to a man who loves women to a man who loves men. The remark was meant lightly, but nonetheless it got to the heart of the radical gender leaps both she and Rey were making in their everyday lives.

Then Rey grew more serious.

“Some transmen want to be seen as men — they want to be accepted as born men,? he said. “I want to be accepted as a transman — my brain is not gendered. There’s this crazy gender binary that’s built into all of life, that there are just two genders that are acceptable. I don’t want to have to fit into that.?

Alissa Quart is the author, of “Branded? and “Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child.? She is at work on a book about America’s subcultures.

Article found here:

March 14, 2008

Journal 2: Wittig

Class Journal Week 6

The major issues we discussed in class were ideas from Wittig on the social contract along with a little bit of Foucault. We mostly talked about Wittig’s ideas of a male dominated social contract and how woman were viewed in that social contract.

One of the first major issues touched on was how woman were exchanged between men to help form a relationship between the two men. We talked about how the men would secure their friendship by giving away a daughter or another woman, while the woman really had no say in their situation and just were thought of as political gifts. This led to talking about how woman are forced into certain roles in society not as leaders but as mothers and wives and in a way slaves to men. This led to a discussion on the “incest taboo? which exists in most cultures. We than talked about how Wittig said woman should try to break away from this and form a new social contract in which woman were not as oppressed. We talked about how woman could break away from the social contract by not accepting it. This led to us further discussing the idea of a slave accepting his situation by obeying the slave master. Another thing we discussed was how the word heterosexual was made only after homosexual, because heterosexual is already assumed by society as part of the social contract.

One of the last things we talked about was from Foucault. We talked about how when a king takes over another piece of land that he derives his power from the people accepting him. They need him for order but he needs them just as much. This is also another example of the social contract.

As for Wittigs idea on the heterosexual social contract I think she does make some good points, but some of her ideas are a little far out and outdated. As for it being a part of the social contract that woman to be with a man, I think it is more of a natural thing for most people to be attracted to the opposite sex. I know that not all people are but it is the natural way of the things that men and woman were meant to be together, for at very least reproductive purposes. So I think that a woman being with a man is less of a social contract idea and more of a natural occurrence. I don’t think that the social contract being “heterosexual? is that big of a deal. I think it is only natural to assume someone is heterosexual, that might just be me following the social contract, but I think it goes back to just being the way people are made. In today’s society I believe homosexuality is being accepted more than in the past but I believe that the social contract will always be heterosexual. So I don’t think woman have to go as extreme as some of her suggestions to change the social contract. I think woman can still be a mother and a wife as well as an independent person not a slave for men.

We talked about how woman were used as gifts to secure the contract and that was true in the past but not as much if at all today. Today I think woman are mostly seen as equal to men. I can see how woman are still oppressed by society but I think great strides have been made recently. For example today it is possible that the next president of our country may be a female. I know that this is far from being the case everywhere in the world but I do not think it is the same as it was in the past. Woman today are taking roles that are equal to and greater than men. That is why I think some of her talk about woman having to break away to form a new contract is a little outdated because woman are seen as equals in most cases.

Also as far as men being the leaders and woman not being as powerful in the past I think this may have hade some basis in nature as well. As society was formed there had to be a specific point where men took the control over woman and they allowed it. It is kind of like what we talked about the slave and the slave master needing each other. Men had the power over the women because they gave them the power by accepting the men’s control. I think that in some way the nature of the people in society when it was first formed had a lot to do with the way the contract was set up.

Finally I think that Wittig’s ideas are a little to far out there for what I believe. I think that todays world is different than in the past but I also think some things will never change. Men and Woman inherently have some differences and that will always be. I also think that the heterosexual contact will always be too just because of the way it is imbedded into society along with nature.

Journal 1: Wittig and Foucault

CSCL 3979: Class Journal - Week 6
1 March 2008

On Thursday, February 28, our class discussion was guided by Monique Wittig’s and Michel Foucault’s essays concerning the social contract. The class divided up into small groups to discuss possible answers to the questions: “Why does Wittig emphasize the here and now?? And, “What is meant by the use of the term “heterosexual contract?? After extrapolating sections of the assigned texts, each group shared their ideas with one another in a mediated discussion.

One of the ideas discussed was that of men being “cultural? beings and women being “natural? beings. Also, there was an important connection made regarding heterosexuality and language as the first social contracts. Likewise, there were conversations about the temporality of the arguments presented in the texts and how these notions have carried over into the present. One last major issue discussed was that of female exclusion from the social contract despite the fact that it is the exchange of women which establishes and reinforces this contract still today.

According to the Wittig, women are said to be “natural? beings as a result of biological and political factors. Women birth children and, as a result, they are essentially defined by their natural biological capabilities of reproduction. Men are considered to be “cultural? beings due to the fact that men form relationships with other men due to the practice of exchanging women between families for the purpose of avoiding incest, which is considered taboo in all cultures.
Heterosexuality becomes the basis for all stated purposes of the exchange of women and, in as much, it becomes the quintessential social contract. Women, as tokens of exchange, in our predominantly heterosexual culture, become the social contract embodied. To say that heterosexuality “goes without saying? is a bit of a misnomer because heterosexuality continues to be a cultural norm as a result of the use of language. Language is a social contract to which we are all subject due to the fact that people use (practice) it to form communities.

In this way, language has much in common with heterosexuality. Both are central to the development and establishment of communities and, ultimately, Culture. Similarly, language enforces the incest and homosexuality taboos. Prohibition is communicated via the use of language. In this way, language communicates and perpetuates the “norm? of heterosexuality. It also contributes to the process of excluding women from active participation in establishing the social contract because they are offered up by men as tokens of exchange between other heterosexual men.

For Wittig, a well-known feminist, the idea that women are “natural beings? implies that they are somehow under evolved members of the human species. This is confirmed when she compares this to the idea that men are “cultural beings? who establish social relations with other men as a means to maintain power over women via exchanging them as though they are gifts. These exchanges of women as gifts are not free from any obligation on the part of the recipient of them. Instead, there is an expectation regarding reciprocity that accompanies the exchange. The gift (woman) becomes, more or less, a challenge to the recipient that he must meet or match for fear that something retributive will be inflicted upon him should he fail to do so (much like Mauss’ example of the “Hau? in his book, The Gift).

All of these factors contribute to the “trafficking of women,? (Rubin) which renders women powerless in regard to their ability to change the social contract in such a way that grants them true equality. As a result of this “trafficking of women,? Wittig notes that the gender roles ascribed to the relationship of male to female is one like that of master and slave. In other words, gender roles are constructed via power relations that always serve the interest of the masters. Of course, the “masters? are men. “The exchange of women isn’t about sex, it’s about power? (Peng).

Wittig references Levi-Strauss when she notes the development of language as a means to discern kinship relations. Language sets in motion the process of categorization in which the associations of “male? and “female? first become established within any given culture (Wittig 42). The exchange of women is made necessary by the incest taboo as to avoid the consequences of inbreeding and public scorn. Likewise, language reinforces the incest taboo in that it allows for the communication necessary in maintaining the cultural norm that forbids inbreeding.

This stems from the idea that heterosexuality is an institutional construct which establishes the social contract. Heterosexuality defines men and women based on biology and relations of reproduction. Wittig takes this one step further by stating that without the presence of homosexuality, there is no need to define heterosexuality. Furthermore, she claims that the practice of heterosexuality, thus, becomes the social contract itself. “Heterosexuality is not really a choice. Rather, it is compulsory and is masqueraded as natural? (Peng).

These arguments make perfect sense to me. On the other hand, I have no desire to escape the system by the means she suggests: fleeing by becoming a lesbian, thus doing my part to change the status quo. However, by being complicit with heterosexuality, I fear that I am contributing to the power that men hold over me. Armed with Wittig’s text, I could feel as though I have been “tokenized? and exchanged by the men in my life, but I don’t. For example, I met my fiancé through my brother, who is my fiancé’s best friend. My fiancé formally asked my father for my hand in marriage prior to his proposal. I am ambivalent about this, but I know that he certainly meant no harm. Rather, he was merely participating in a practice that is looked upon as being noble, courteous and respectful toward me and my family. There was no intention on his part to do me (or my gender) any harm, but Wittig would, likely, vehemently disagree.

The discussion of Foucault’s text yielded some interesting thoughts on the part of each group as well. We related Foucault’s arguments to Hobbes’ regarding war in that the relationship of the conquered to the conqueror is like that of a parent to a child. It was noted that the master/slave relationship exists because the slave relies upon the master to live. This is the same as the child relying on the parent as a question of life or death which, in turn, undermines the idea of the social contract because it is not about voluntarily signing the contract. Rather, it is simply about survival. In referencing Hegel, it was noted that the slave is necessarily more essential in the master/slave relationship. If there were no slave, there would be no means of recognizing the master as a human being. The slave, rather than representing the master, makes the master recognizable altogether. That is why the master does not kill the slave. One example of this can be found on page 105 of the text.

Another example of the mother/child concept was noted on page 95. In essence, fear makes for the continuation of the sovereign, even after all are already dead. In other words, conquering people does not establish the state. Instead, the state is legitimized due to its fear of the conquered. Hence, the slave (conquered) is more important and deterministic regarding the state’s preference for life over death which means that the fear of death is what establishes the state. This leads back to Hobbes’ arguments about the fear of the conquered: “…willing to let us live.?

Foucault is saying that politics are organized in reference to materiality (the body) and that it is taken for granted that life is preferable to death. However, he turns this idea on its head when he discusses that we have begun to kill in the name of life. He refers to this as the “radical will to live.? The most essential element of the social contract, for Foucault, is the fear of death. This is contradictory to Hobbes’ argument in that it “demonstrates to us that it is not really about ‘will’ as much as it is about one’s ‘will to let someone let you live’? (Peng).

February 29, 2008

Rousseau: journal 2

One of the main topics in the discussion of Rousseau was the definition and power of the sovereign, and how Rousseau’s discussion of the sovereign differs from Hobbes’. In his writings, Hobbes legitimizes the power of the sovereign and says that it has absolute power. Rousseau, however, says that the will of the people should be the will of the sovereign.

Rousseau says that people enter into societies voluntarily, for the sake of self-preservation or utility. In nature, all men are free from one another. Relationships between them are only formed voluntarily. Even in family relationships, once children have reached an age where they can provide for and protect themselves, they only have relationships with their family members on a voluntary basis. In legitimate relationships, each party enters the relationship as an equal. In the case of slavery, no man has any right to rule over another, and no man has the right to submit himself to slavery. To submit to slavery would be against the nature of man; therefore slavery is not a legitimate relationship.

When societies are formed, the difference between what is “public? and what is “private? shows the divergence of societal relationships from the state of nature. “Private? refers to man’s natural state, where he is completely free of all constraints and has the right to protect his life and possessions. However, in this state, perversions can also exist, where men exert power that is beyond what they have rights to, i.e., a man can make another man his slave or take another man’s possessions without consequence. When a social contract is made, men give up their freedom and alienate themselves from all of their natural right (Rousseau, p.50). However, Rousseau claims earlier that it is not possible to alienate oneself from his natural freedom (p.45). To explain this, Rousseau claims that when a man gives up all of his rights to enter into society, he receives them back as an equal member of society. A good example of this idea would be if several people each gave an equal share of money to buy a piece of land. Although the men no longer have the money in their possession, they have equal rights to or “shares? of the land. They benefit equally from whatever the land can provide for them (e.g., food, money, housing, etc.). Thus men are able to enter into society and alienate their rights without going against their nature.

Men enter into societies to have a “guarantee? of safety and right to property. In nature, men have a right to protect themselves and have property. However, there is no law or force to prevent another man from taking life or property away. In society, an agreement between men is made that each has a right to his own life and property, and if anyone infringes on these rights of another person, there will be consequences for his actions. There is no guarantee of property in the state of nature, since strength usually overcomes rights in nature. However, there is a mutual agreement in society that men have a right to their property and have rights as a “first occupant? (p.54). According to Rousseau, men have the right to disobey the sovereign if the sovereign goes against these agreements in society. The relationship between a man and his property is stronger than that between him and the sovereign. In this way, Rousseau states that the sovereign has limitations and does not have absolute power (p.51). If the sovereign claims rights that it ought, by nature, not to, then men have the right to dissolve the societal contract. The sovereign gains its legitimacy from the general will of the people in the society. In general, Rousseau paints a very accurate picture of the nature of man and the reasons for entering into societal relationships. If there is no rule of law, men have no incentive to respect other men’s rights and lives. Since man can naturally be greedy, the stronger will often overpower the weaker to obtain their possessions. However, this picture is a little too simplistic to cover all of the reasons for entering into society. In this picture, those who are physically stronger would have no reason for entering into society. However, those who are physically strong would have an incentive to enter into societies to tap into the advantages that those who are intellectually stronger enjoy. Also, Rousseau does not analyze the emotional state of man. While solitary living may be practical for man’s physical needs, this ignores man’s need for human interaction. His picture of man is almost soulless. So while men do, indeed, enter into societies to protect themselves and their property, there are many more reasons for men to enter into societal contracts.

Rousseau: journal 1

Jean-Jacques Rousseau the author of The Social Contract is the topic of this journal. In class we address the difference between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes. We looked into the different approaches the two men took on the topic of the government and its people. Rousseau and Hobbes come to the conclusion of the importance of the sovereign. Rousseau discusses the will of the people as being the same as the will of the sovereign. That the sovereign is the people, it is one body governed by the people. The sovereign for Hobbes is one that comes form an absolute power. Hobbes has a narrow definition of society when it comes to dealing with the state. He views society as one that is exclusively linked to European government with rulers. There is no consideration for tribal governments and other forms of government that do not resemble that of European governments. He goes on to write about the state of nature. The state of nature is one that is disorderly and lawless; where there is no law there can be no injustice. There are two important words to take away from the Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes that is covenant and fear. The fear leads people into the contract and the glue that binds them to the contract is self-interest. Self preservation is natural and that allows people to give up some liberties in the quest of self preservation. But liberties are not birth rights but products of society and the contract society makes between people. Jean-Jacques Rousseau discusses the social contract also and how there is a difference between the public and private. The public is general apart of the social contract and the sovereign. Private deals more with the particulars like property and the relationship between master and slave. Public and Private are apart of the social contract. As we explore the social contract we see how it deals with how one can obey self interest and still work under the social contract. When one gives up some rights they do so in purist of gaining more rights, which ultimately benefit them in their self preservation. An example would be the right owning property. Under the social contract property is own by the government. The government allows people to buy the land and claim it as there own. Even though they feel as though the land is considered to be the citizen’s it is actually the property of the sovereign. The issue that I would like to focus on is that of the public versus the private. An example of the conflict between the public and the private can be seen in book I chapter six of the social pact paragraph two through four. These paragraphs discuss how in ones attempt to fulfill his/her needs for self preservation they need to team up with others. They unite to from “a sum of forces that might prevail over those obstacles’ resistance?. With unity they are able to advance and to have these opportunities of advancement people agree to the social contract. By being apart of the city of Chicago I am given the agreement that the local government will work in the best interest of the people. According to Rousseau the sovereign can only work in the interest of the people because it is made of the people. The city of Chicago decided to put a bid in for the Olympics in order to bring jobs to the city. In this way the city is working for the people. In other instances the sovereign also works in ways that better it self. The city of Chicago has postponed the advancement of Wal-Mart building stores in the city. The city does not agree to some of Wal-Mart practices towards its employees. This disagreement has kept Wal-Mart from building a store in the city. Though bringing the Olympics to Chicago is good because it brings jobs; if Wal-Mart was allowed to enter the city there would permanent jobs. The Wal-Mart example shows how the sovereign does not always take into account the needs of the people. Instead of insuring permanent jobs the city is following its own political beliefs that are in conflict with what might be best for the people. Book II chapter one paragraphs two through three also discuss the conflict between public and private. These paragraphs talk about how the private can never always agree with the public. “Indeed, while it is not impossible that a particular will agree with the general will on some point, it is in any event impossible for this agreement to be lasting and constant.? This may explain my feelings towards Chicago’s decision not to allow Wal-Mart into the city; me as a particular does not agree with the decision. The social contract is a two fold relationship between the self and sovereign. I disagree with the Chicago’s government for declining Wal-Mart but by being apart of the sovereign and committing to the social contract I still abide by the sovereign’s rules. Following the rules I am participating in the social contract.

February 25, 2008

Hobbes and Locke: Journal 3

Week 4 journal The Political “we?

Small group discussion during the fourth week of class focused on the formation of the political “we.? Each group discussed Thomas Hobbes’ writings in Leviathan (chapter 13, “Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,? chapter 14, Of the First and Second Naturall Lawes, and of Contracts? and chapter 21, “The Liberty of Subjects.?) Discussion focused around the transition from states to established society and the difference between the two. We also talked about the common ideas of ownership and property between Hobbes’ writing and that of John Locke in Of Property.

A great portion of our discussion focused on Hobbes’ view of the natural state of men. In Chapter 13, “Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,? Hobbes defines his take on the natural state of men. Hobbes explains that naturally, all men are equal. We discussed Hobbes’ idea that since all men are equal, without any common power over them, they are always in a state of fear and war with one another. This state of war resulted from no limitation of rights, which in turn left all men without security and restricted any man from owning property for himself.

We discussed Hobbes’ suggestion that peace comes only from the mutual fear of death among men. This fear motivates men to seek after peace. We talked about the necessity of men giving up certain rights by way of contract in order to ultimately benefit themselves and those around them. This process of forming contracts and relinquishing some of their rights facilitated the formation of a common-wealth. Under this common-wealth, power was given to a Sovereign. Under this sovereign, men are granted peace and protection and are finally allowed to own property.

We see that it is ultimately only by limiting some rights that any man is able to truly have rights to property. By organizing together, men form a society that ultimately grants and takes away the right of ownership to all men. If a man owns a certain land, all other men lose their right to that land. By having a sovereign, these rights are protected and men are no longer left in fear. John Locke takes the idea of ownership one step further by establishing the idea that ownership of property comes only by way of labor. In Of Property, he states: “The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property…For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for other.? (Locke, 111-112.)

From this passage, we learn that Locke’s idea of land ownership (property) is only granted to the man who labors over a particular area of land. Once he has worked over the land and improved it by tilling, planting, etc., he alone has ownership of it and can enjoy the fruits of it. All other men lose their right to this land. Included in this passage are also very important stipulations on property ownership. In the last line, Locke adds that the man who has labored over a land has a right to own that property as long as there is still enough, good land left for the rest of the common people. This stipulation ensures that men only take as much land as they can use and that there is enough common land left that any man who will labor for it, may have property for himself.

By limiting the property of man to that which he can labor over and use the fruit of, no man would be able to take over too wide an expanse of land or take away the right of another man to own his own share. (Locke, 115.) Within society, once a man has taken possession of a certain area and improved the land, the whole society benefits from his labors. Locke supports this idea by saying, “…he who appropriates land to himself by his labour, does not lessen, but increase the common stock of mankind: for provisions serving to the support of human life, produced by one acre of enclosed and cultivated land, are (to speak much within compass) ten times more than those which are yielded by an acre of land of an equal richness lying waste in common.? (Locke, 116.)

We see that the idea of self and community are always interconnected and dependent upon one another for benefit. Left to himself, every man has unlimited rights, but cannot enjoy them because of constant fear of his fellow man. Society is dependent on each man forsaking some of his unlimited rights in order to ensure protection for all and allow ownership. This ownership allows for common lands to be labored and improved, which in turn benefits the whole society.