When you think of “war,” which war comes to your mind? How far removed are you from that war? How has war impacted your work? These are the questions asked of 18 people in a project currently on display at Eastern Mennonite University. WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.
In a corner of Eastern Mennonite University’s Hartzler Library, six large computer monitors sitting atop black boxes show a variety of people talking about their understandings of and connections to war. Put on the headphones at one of the screens, and you will hear these voices:
These are from “18 Stories of War,” a project by EMU Center for Justice and Peacebuilding student Mikhala Lantz-Simmons and her husband Mohammad Rasoulipour, who is a Center graduate. The Center, they thought, perhaps needed more understanding of what people call war, and so they asked if the people around them would talk with them, on camera. For the project they settled on 18 of their collected interviews: two faculty members, four family members, and twelve other students.
MIKHALA LANTZ-SIMMONS: One of the themes that was most salient for me was how people's story of war had indeed affected their trajectory.
MOHAMMAD RASOULIPOUR: To our surprise it was very diverse, very diverse. Even for people that we thought we were going to get the same response, we got extremely diverse answers.
Among others, there are stories from Colombia, Libya, Korea. A former U.S. soldier says that the camaraderie of his war zone experience in Afghanistan made his deployment the best thing that ever happened to him. A man from Bergton, Virginia tells about having worked for the U.S. Department of Defense developing tank munitions and then going to Palestine where as a civilian he found himself on the receiving end of tank fire.
RASOULIPOUR: So he had, as he says, a 180 degree shift in worldview, completely, religious, political, everything. That was absolutely fascinating. It was like a total shift of story that we were kind of amazed, sitting there listening to his story, which was our friend and classmate, but we didn't know that about him.
Another classmate interviewee is Michael McAndrew. Now working toward two masters degrees, in Conflict Transformation and Clinical Mental Health Counseling, McAndrew became a flight deck electrician after enlisting in the Navy in 2008.
MICHAEL MCANDREW: I think what I was thinking at the time was this feeling that this is for real. This is watching the whole thing from start to finish, the launch of 12-16 aircraft with ordnance over Afghanistan and then coming back a few hours later with nothing, like that's everything from start to finish. It really gave me a lot of pause about exactly what was happening and what that meant. Even just doing the math I knew all those bombs weren't hitting terrorists.
Telling his story has been restorative for McAndrew.
MCANDREW: I feel like telling the story, even the hard parts, even the parts about anxiety or depression or suicide or drinking, that makes the next telling easier, and that really starts to heal the wound.
Creating the project prompted the filmmakers to think about their own connections to war, as well, though they did not include their stories in the project.
For Rasoulipour, who is from Tehran, the first war that comes to mind when he is asked depends on which language is used in the question, English or Farsi.
RASOULIPOUR: When you say "war" I imagine w-a-r, and I've seen that being talked about World War II because there's more talk about World War II in English language. But then in my own language--I'm a visual artist. When words are being said, I visualize them and where I have seen those. And so “war” in Farsi, that would immediately take me back to what we have studied and the stories I have heard about the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.
Originally from Missouri, co-creator Lantz-Simmons goes straight to her grandfather’s role in World War II. With one exception, as far as she knows, her grandfather never talked about his wartime experiences, which included being part of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
LANTZ-SIMMONS: Just this idea of someone carrying something with them, something very intense and to not have an outlet where you could share that. That made me very sad that my grandfather didn't to my knowledge have that possibility to talk about what he had seen.
Guests to the exhibit are invited to respond in writing. 18 Stories of War is on display in the EMU Hartzler Library through January 28.