Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shame, Love and Helplessness

Last night I participated in something extra ordinary. Theater, military civilian relations and dialogue are three of my greatest interests and passions. I have never seen the three worlds collide. Until last night. I went to this event called Theater of War. Here's the website in case you want to know more. For the past two years, Theater of War, run by Bryan Doerries, have been touring the Western world putting on staged readings of Greek theater. Once the reading is over, they invite those affected by war (mainly veterans) to come on stage and share their reaction to the show. Act III, they invite the audience to respond with their reactions to the show. The entire event lasted three hours, which I think was too long. However I experienced a wide range of emotion last night and was quite intrigued.

One line in the staged reading Ajax by Sophocles, Tecmessa, Ajax's wife, is describing her grief as she watches her husband go through an ancient version of PTSD. She says, "twice the pain, twice the sorrow" and in that line she is referring to herself as a dependent and the pain she experiences is twice as much as her husbands. While in some ways this is not always true, there was a much larger point here that I appreciated being brought up. "Dependents", those of us affected by war through our loved ones, often experience twice the pain and sorrow as they do. It is very sorrowful and painful to go through a difficult time, but it is even more sorrowful sometimes to witness your loved one go through pain.

Anyway, the event was well organized, well executed. The actors were top notch. And the military crowd was very well spoken.

The one thing that I missed was inclusion of the civilian community. I appreciate the discussion around dependents, however even we are a small minority in the US. When it comes to military civilian dialogue, I often wonder where the civilian community comes in. Is the civilian role only to listen and validate? There was one man who voiced his concern over the reasons for going to war and while the moderator thanked him and validated him as a "concerned civilian" that was the end of the conversation. Was there no time to address these more complex issues? In the end the experience started to feel like a military propaganda production rather than one of the real hard conversations that need to happen. What if a large part of the grief experience by veterans is because they are not able to have those hard conversations about a lack of agency that they experience, that we as civilians experience. The feeling of helplessness and lack of agency is what I feel is the strong common unitor in this pain America is experiencing.

We constantly compartmentalize politics and military and often to our own detriment. As an outsider, I feel like the whole military system is set up in a way to completely abdicate authority and responsibility. Is my only role to be a cheerleader for the veterans? Is there not a bigger issue that we all face together?