Literary dialogue helping veterans cope with war experiences, reintegration

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Photo/ Anthony Victoria: San Bernardino Valley College English Professor Edward Jones and Cal State San Bernardino student Juan Hernandez.

Since the beginning of the academic year, San Bernardino Valley College and Cal State San Bernardino have held book discussions to help veterans address their experiences of war and reintegration into society.

Discussions are scheduled to take place through May–though educators are hoping the National Endowment for the Humanities decides to extend the project for another year.

“We see the value in what we’re doing,” San Bernardino Valley College Professor Edward Jones said. “Hopefully we’re able to bring in more people next year.”

The Dialogues on the Experience of War, facilitated by Jones, Cal State San Bernardino English Professor Jennifer Andersen and San Bernardino Valley College English Professor Joe Notarangelo, helps create a “circle of trust” where veterans are able to express themselves without judgement.

Fictional or nonfictional narratives about war help evoke the very complex and intense particular situations and different norms of military culture that soldiers act under during deployment,” Andersen said. “These stories acknowledge the human need to adapt emotionally and in other ways to situations of physical deprivation, prolonged exposure to risk and danger, and grief for fallen comrades.”

Courtesy Photo: Veteran Jerry Donovan Smith engaging with CSUSB student and U.S. Marine Juan Hernandez during a Dialogues on the Experience of War meeting back in July, right. Left, San Bernardino Valley College English Professor Joe Notarangelo browses the text
Courtesy Photo: Veteran Jerry Donovan Smith engaging with CSUSB student and U.S. Marine Juan Hernandez during a Dialogues on the Experience of War meeting back in July, right. Left, San Bernardino Valley College English Professor Joe Notarangelo browses the text

Andersen explained participants engage in comparative literature–comparing Greek works such as Iliad and Euripides with more modern readings.

For example, the story of Achilles in the poem Iliad describes the brave soldiers’ loyalty and sacrifice in war, scorn experienced from his general, and loss of motivation for battle–experiences that could be compared to U.S. combat troops’ involvement in Vietnam.

“Even though most people think of the Iliad as a poem that celebrates and glorifies war and heroism, the central plot of Achilles’s alienation from his own army and the Greeks is in fact a story of deep bitterness and betrayal,” confirmed Andersen.

Jones, who served in the U.S. Army in the Desert Storm era, said he’s determined to help young and old soldiers help rebuild their ability to critically think.

“It’s a difficult transition,” he said. “They have to be taught that it’s ok to disagree or have your opinion about something. That’s something soldiers have to get used to.”

Cal State San Bernardino student Juan Hernandez, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom,

“Some of our brothers that didn’t serve in combat feel that their service is not as worthy as ours,” Hernandez said. “They’ve done their part, and we make them feel that when they participate.”

For more information, contact Jennifer Andersen at (909) 537-5464.

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