Veterans Day: Welcome Home Warriors

Dedicated to Henry Lincoln Johnson. Many challenges face our veterans returning from service, but perhaps the greatest challenge is being away from war and being home.

Veterans Day, a holiday once dedicated to all those that served in World War I and formerly known as Armistice Day received its expansion in 1954 to include all veterans, and has since been known as Veterans Day. We welcome those who served in combat and non-combative capacities with grand gestures like televised parades and medal ceremonies largely unaware of the grander issues at hand.

How does our society, not only welcome, but reintegrate our warriors after they have been changed by the military experience? How can civilians relate and hopefully understand a soldier's mindset, the wiring for war, and the basic training and experiences associated with that type of service? I'm reminded of a talk veteran and director Stephan Wolfert gave to a crowd of fellow veterans and academics at the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial building after a performance of his one man show, Cry "Havoc," a performance of his military experience interwoven with famous soliloquies from Shakespeare's works.

Through his performance I gained a deeper understanding of the trauma the soldier undergoes in their wiring for war. I was made aware of the brotherhood that is formed through combat training and solidified in combat, of the vocabulary necessary to identify an enemy by distancing the 'self' from the ‘other,’ by creating a difference. Though the concept of the 'othering' is familiar to me through my readings of Hegel, Lacan, Lévinas, Saïd, Foucault, etc; Wolfert's art made clear how these differences create distance between, not only the soldier and their enemy, but between the soldier and the civilian. At the end of his performance, I was left to wonder how this distance can be closed, how can it be healed when the soldier returns home?

And when the soldier returns home, are they who we remember? Wolfert spoke about how the civilian body undergoes a transformation where it loses the civilian identity and through bootcamp and service becomes the soldier hard body, part of a unit wired to overcome danger by heading towards it, to shoot first then take cover when taking fire. The soldier is indoctrinated through this wiring. The person coming back home might not be the same person that left, and then the startling point was made: the wiring for war is never un-wired when the war is over. The battlefield carries on in the mind and the anticipation of death continues.

Although as a civilian I can never fully relate or fully understand what war is like from the soldier perspective, I can listen. I can learn and hope others are also willing to listen, and learn how to better welcome back our warriors, as many indigenous nations once did and as many states still do, by reintroducing our soldiers to society layer by layer and fighting for better services to make the transition back home viable, to make home feel like a home after the parades are done. I encourage veterans to share their stories and civilians to listen, it wont be easy, but together we can help create a better nation for all of us. 

 

Interested in modern war literature and veteran experiences? Check out:

Annie Proulx - Tits-Up in a Ditch
Phil Klay - Redeployment
Katey Schultz - Flashes of War
Hassan Blasim - The Corps Exhibition
Brian Turner - Here, Bullet
Kevin Powers - The Yellow Birds
Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried
Ben Fountain - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk 

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This article is part of the tags: military  / shakespeare  / veterans  / war 

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