“Sweet is war to those who have never experienced it,” states the Latin proverb. This very disconnect between those who have experienced war and those who have not, is central to the curriculum. In addition to communing with veterans, we will analyze popular depictions of war, veterans, violence, and prisons in order to assess how military members, justice involved people, and survivors of violence are understood in the public imagination versus how they in fact understand themselves and their realities. Drawing from interdisciplinary scholarship in the fields of sociology, history, psychology, psychiatry, and public health, the course interrogates the identity of vulnerable veterans (e.g., veterans who are incarcerated, homeless, or struggling with suicide ideation) who experience being both a hero who has sacrificed and a type of stigmatized villain who is largely invisible within the broader cultural discourse.
Throughout the semester students will get personally acquainted with local organizations and individuals who do critical service work in this area. One of the unique aspects of the course is the instructor’s relationships to the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Hospital and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Students will experience in-person dialog with various experts –both official and lay experts—who include clinicians, veterans, military members, chaplains, and incarcerated people. Students will attend workshops at both the VA and a state prison.
Towards the end of the semester, students will participate in a “Healing Ceremony” at the Philadelphia VA focused on the recovery from moral injury led by my colleague Dr. Peter Yeomans, a clinical psychologist. In addition, students will take a field trip to SCI-Phoenix for a discussion with incarcerated veterans whom the instructor has known for many years. Many U.S. communities expose their residents to extensive violence. Recent U.S. wars show that being in war can be, paradoxically, safer than living in certain U.S. neighborhoods during “peacetime.” We will interrogate the meanings and definition of “war” itself. Given the violence within war and certain U.S. communities, healing from violence will be a central theme. Students will have the chance to learn from those who have personally managed and coped with trauma and warfare.