Finding Community

Week of June 25

Community, history, and music dominated the conversations of this week’s meetings. With new additions to the sessions, group leader Bart led us in introductions. The service men and women present ranged from former linguists and pilots, to reserve members and combat veterans, many of whom had limited experience with the arts beyond this program. Bart’s brief introduction of the program’s mission and history spurred dialogue about the importance of community among veterans and how that must be reflected to U.S. civilians.  

Returning members Terry and Meagan recounted how their experiences in the program helped them articulate the realities of the military to engaged audiences during the previous year’s showcases. Meagan remembers that attendees were open to challenging conversations and left with new perspectives on life as a veteran. Terry, a veteran who served between the Korean and Vietnam wars interjects, noting that civilians want to know the experiences of veterans. He reassures the newcomers of the program’s benefits and recalls how Bart helped him find a vision for the work he wanted to present to the public.  

The literary analysis included short passages from the Iliad 1 led by professor Tom Palaima. The contrast between the Greek understanding of war and American understanding is underlined in the discussion. War and combat were realities of Greek life that American civilians are more distant from today. This point ties into the purpose of the program - showing a more human view of veteran and military life for civilians with little understanding of the reality. As they delve further into the text, participants begin to draw parallels with their own military experiences. Meagan notes the talk of “prizes” by Agamemnon and Odysseus and the glaring entitlement of the men in power. Brian notes the pettiness and egos of the supposed “heros of war” when faced with conflict within the ranks. Finally, Tom broadens the discussion by pointing out the self examination lacking in the “shame and honor” culture of the ancient Greeks compared to the Judaism influenced society we live in today. From there, participants discuss the factors of “honor societies” and the contrasts with current culture. Honor killings in the east, rural versus urban life, and in urban life, the presence of gangs that follow these same honor or “achievement” codes of value.

The following meeting began with more introductions and general inquiries about the musicality of the Greek epics. Here, the convergence of military, arts, and performance are discussed in detail. Ranging from cultural and theatrical references, to the questions that still evade historians about the ancient Greek arts. Who wrote these epics? What did they sound like performed live? How was the tone of the writings translated to music?

A reading of Paul Woodruff’s poem “What the Veteran Said” evoked an emotional conversation about culpability in war. The interpretations of the poem varied, but centered on one theme - guilt or a lack thereof. The takeaway from the discussions was that combat veterans, clerks, cooks, and beyond can face an internal and external guilt from their service in the military. Those not on the front lines deal with the guilt and relief of knowing they aren’t in harm’s way, while those in combat face the realities of recurring violence. Many members expressed that going back to civilian life after these events can lead to conflicting emotions, especially when praised and/or criticized by the public.

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