At a recent evening hosted by the Crossroads Cultural Center, a young woman in the audience asked how chaplains minister to troops of other faiths or no faith. This is a question that always comes up, and, indeed, it was one of the issues that drove us to make the film: we wanted to see for ourselves whether and how a predominantly Christian clergy in the employ of the state served the needs of a religiously diverse population. Chaplain Ken Bolin answered in a way that reminded us of the many chaplains we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. They reached to others out, fueled by their faith to love, not judge, fellow service men and women.
The more time passes, the more I realize how very important this is. Anyone read the book Christian Nation? It is a particularly chilling dystopia because it underscores that what we have is so very valuable and, possibly, so very fragile. We take its existence for granted, but the Constitutional balance that at once guarantees our free exercise of religion and prohibits the government from establishing any one religion is delicate and finely tuned. And it needs to be protected if it is to endure. In his extremely well researched novel, author Fred Rich sets out how, through a confluence of planning and accident, a dogmatic religious faction comes to power in the US. And, yes, military chaplains play a role in this dystopia: rather than reaching out in faith-inspired love to help and comfort troops, the chaplains in this novel love only those who share their faith and help the government impose that faith on those who do not.
We are so very lucky that the world Rich describes exists within the pages of a book and not in the world we inhabit. As we approach Memorial Day, we want to thank all the chaplains and all the troops who have died upholding this delicate and oh so valuable balance in our Constitution.
On view for another month at the Brooklyn Museum, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath is an amazingly effective show. It groups some 400 images taken over the last 166 years thematically — from training to deployment to combat, injuries, death, and the 1000-mile stare of returning troops. By organizing the show this way, it drives home the constants of war. The equipment and circumstances change, the realities of sending people into combat doesn’t. There are acts of bravery, tenacity, loyalty and love on the battlefield, in hospital tents, by gravestones. There is also unspeakable brutality, suffering, and devastation both individual and collective, military and civilian.
This was our take on it. If you have seen the show in Brooklyn or any of its previous venues (Museum Fine Arts, Houston; Corcoran, Washington, DC; Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles), please share your thoughts.
Humanity Explored Film Festival is up and running, and you can watch Chaplains Under Fire on-line as well as a number of other great documentaries and feature films. And, please, give the festival your feedback and spread the word. Thanks.
For all of you who ask us where you can watch “Chaplains Under Fire”– well, we are proud to announce that the documentary will be part of the next Humanity Explored film festival whose organizers, Culture Unplugged, make it easy for everyone to attend: it is on-line, free, and runs for a year. The 2013 festival will launch later this month and, in the meantime, you can still check out the 2012 films.
The Dart Society is an independent nonprofit organization of journalists who cover trauma, conflict, and human rights. In its fourth publication, it highlights range of veteran issues, often with an eye to helping the media deal with these issues more sensitively and honestly. You can read the current issue on-line — it is well worth it.
Silver Star Families of America placed May 1st on the national calendar as a day to remember and honor all those who have suffered wounds and illnesses while on active duty in a war zone. It is also a day to thank groups like Silver Star Families of America for their consistent support of veterans and their families.
I first came across this group while researching a chapter for War Trauma and Its Wake: Expanding the Circle of Healing. I conclude the chapter by “highlighting some interventions that benefit our wounded warriors and their families on their long, tortuous journey home.” Among them:
Recognition. Only those warriors injured in combat receive the Purple Heart medal. This leaves many warriors wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan with no concrete recognition of their service. Silver Star Families of America (SSFOA) rectifies this by awarding silver star banners or certificates. These are not to be confused with a Silver Star medal, which is issued by the government for gallantry in action. The SSFOA banner/certificate is an unofficial recognition that expresses the community’s appreciation. Similarly, one can submit a request to the SSFOA to honor caregivers, usually relegated to the ranks of unsung heroes.
A good report from the Sydney Morning Herald about the medical care given to wounded troops in Afghanistan. The article includes a video (below) about the work of doctors in the multinational medical unit in Kandahar. On the eve of Gallipoli anniversary, it is a reminder that Australians and New Zealanders are sending troops into this war, too.
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