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Draw Your Weapons

‘How to live in the face of so much suffering? What difference can one person make in this beautiful, imperfect, and imperilled world?’

In Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles offers an impassioned defence of life lived by peace and principle. Through a dazzling combination of memoir, history, reporting, visual culture, literature and theology, Sentilles tells the true stories of a conscientious objector during World War II and a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib. In the process she challenges conventional thinking about how violence is waged, witnessed and resisted.

Draw Your Weapons stirs and confronts, disturbs and illuminates. A single book might not change the world, but this utterly original meditation on art and war might transform the way you see the world—and that makes all the difference.


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Sarah Sentilles
About the Author

A former theologian, Sarah Sentilles completed her undergraduate degree at Yale and both a Masters and a Doctorate at Harvard. She was a college professor for over a decade before becoming a full time writer and is now a passionate advocate for life lived by peace and principle. Her previous books are Taught by America: A Story of Struggle and...

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Text publication date:
3 July 2017
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Praise for Sarah Sentilles
andDraw Your Weapons

‘A unique and necessary book that makes a passionate, thought-stoking argument.’

‘Now more than ever, the world needs a book like Draw Your Weapons. With mastery, urgency and great courage, Sarah Sentilles investigates the histories of art, violence, war and human survival. In her haunting and absorbing narrative, the act of storytelling itself becomes a matter of life and death.’

Draw Your Weapons is as much about peace as it is about war; it is as much about life as it is about death…You will be riveted, educated, implicated, and changed by this book.’

‘A beautiful, harrowing, and moving collage that portrays the making of art as a powerful response to making war. Every reader will feel profoundly changed by it.’

‘Fearless, stirring, rhythmic, this book pulses with energy and is full of insights, dark yet ultimately hopeful.’

‘A beautiful, haunting book so original that it is a genre unto itself—a poem, a sermon, a polemic, a memoir, a narrative. I won’t be able to think of our era of constant conflict without recalling Sentilles’s lessons, her imagery, and her prophetic voice.’

Draw Your Weapons works as a highly original corrective to this impulse towards inaction…Sentilles’ approach is a refreshing and instructive take on this era of perennial warfare.’ 

‘Sentilles delivers a learned, poetic, and interdisciplinary assessment of the ways in which the photographic image has been abused and weaponised, while also suggesting ways in which the arts can help serve as an antidote to this problem.’

‘Sentilles, a would-be priest who dropped out of divinity school to pursue the study of art history searches for the role of art in an age of perennial warfare. She deftly and gently weaves together disparate topics—photography, Japanese internment, Abu Ghraib, sainthood, to name a few—so that I felt like an awakened genius at the close of each section.’

‘In Draw Your Weapons, American critical theorist Sarah Sentilles assembles the case for art as a weapon against weapons. It’s a premise that may sound painfully idealistic, but to dismiss the book on that basis is to miss a thoughtful conversation with an author whose eyes are wide open…In a culture where the arts are too often dismissed as frivolous, Sentilles’s work offers a robust and necessary retort, an important reminder that “the world is made and can be unmade. Remade”.’ 

‘Sentilles has examined these issues so closely, I am inescapably interested in her opinions. At the same time I also appreciate her answer to a student, who, reacting to one of the many photographs of war and violence that Sentilles shows her classes, asked, “But what are we supposed to do?” Sentilles responded: “I don’t know.”’

‘Though Sontag’s words—“No one…Not even pacifists”—fundamentally shape the book, and it proves nothing if not how pervasive and intractable the culture of war is, Draw Your Weapons left me feeling rather like Virginia Woolf. It is an impossibly heavy book to read, as even the beautiful in it is tainted by its root cause, but it is heavy because it is challenging and brilliant and fierce. Readers will carry that weight and be better for it.’ 

‘Sarah Sentilles’ Draw Your Weapons is one of the most erudite, original, and thought-provoking books I have ever read. A philosophical and moral meditation on pain, torture, and the violence of war—part memoir, part history, even a kind of secular prayer—this book asks us to look at terrible human darkness while also celebrating the ways in which love, connectedness, and the making of art nourish and redeem the human spirit.’

‘A masterpiece of understatement, allusion and wily composition.’

‘A sincere and intelligent read.’

‘A liminal story that is all at once a gritty exploration of Mexican gang life and a poetic examination of the human spirit.’

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