Dissenting Opinions

Week of August 6

This week we halt the dissection of context and motifs to fondly remember accomplished veteran, lawyer, and poet Charles “Chuck” Patterson, a colleague of Tom’s who passed recently. Chuck Patterson was most widely known among veterans and those interested in veterans issues for his strong and courageous defense of Manny Babbitt during the appeal to commute his death sentence to life in prison for a murder committed while suffering from extreme PTSD. Tom shares their correspondence over the years, recalling the impact Chuck's work, writing, and involvement in UT's Free Minds Project had on students. Chuck's humility when presented with academic discussions on his poems is palpable in their communications. This quote of Charles’ stood out among their conversations: “There are no winners or losers, there is no good, no evil. There is just sudden death or injury on both sides. One moment a man is alive the next he’s a corpse regardless of whose army he is fighting in or even if he is fighting, or if a civilian steps on a forgotten mine ten years later. We fought for no better reason than we were there and had to do it.” Charles’ work resonates deeply with program, not only because of its content, but in the perspective of a veteran who was able to communicate the pain of war through art. An outlet close to the Warrior Chorus mission.

Transitioning into presentations, we begin by discussing Brian’s untitled essay that was sent to the group following last week’s meeting. Expounding on the points in the previous discussion, Brian’s striking performance essay encompasses the fear and urgency he hoped to convey to the audience while remaining informative. Using imagery of a gun to one’s back and a knife at one’s throat, Brian paints grim picture of the current state of government intel and the threats against democracy. Clarifying our previous conversations on unconsented wars, Brian writes: “I was also awakening to the fact that the war that this was occurring in seemed to be the product of a surprisingly unsubtle manipulation that was performed by a more or less compliant press on a stupified and bewildered public. The evidence, the rational, the purpose of the war was non-existent in real terms.”

Having changed his performance to an original song, Glenn follows with a heart wrenching self-recorded song of mourning and questioning. The timbre of his voice is reminiscent of soulful ballads and blues, a tone that fits the melancholy nature of the song. The song conveys the pain of war and feeling othered despite service to one’s country. Glenn goes on to explain how the traumas of the ‘killing fields’ were displayed in the violent tendencies that eventually erupted through gangs in his southern California city.  

Jumping on this point, Brian adds that the tactics and scenarios displayed on popular military action shows fuel pro-war propaganda that can potentially erode the sensitivities of civilians watching. This also leads to him questioning how we fail to learn from unsuccessful wars, foreign political interference tactics, and the ills of human nature. James and Meagan offer a counterpoint to that assumption - saying that the U.S. has a long history of not heeding the warnings of dissenting government personnel. Meagan lists Colin Powell’s opposing stance as an example, while James offers slavery and the removal of Native Americans from their lands as displays of U.S. immorality.

Once the conversation spirals into U.S. imperialism based on Athenian models, Mike brings up the perfect question in relation to the audience. How are they to handle dissenting opinions while presenting their work to the public?  A great questions with reassuring answers from the rest of the group. We highlight the educational purpose of the program, and James and Glenn revel in the opportunity to present new and maybe uncomfortable perspectives to the audience. These conversations not only stimulate meaningful dialogue among the group members, they reinforce the intentions and impact of the art they hope to create.