Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stop Talking Behind Our Backs: A response to the IAVA visit to Sarah Lawrence College

'Did we leave someone out?' I used to think, each time the class brought up a different subject. Sometimes the center of our discussion have passed, sometimes they are far away, but more likely than not, they are just a few miles away. For instance, at home, in Jakarta, we talked a lot about the heroes of our country, such as Soekarno-Hatta, who are dubbed as the country's founders, different Kings and Queens, who ruled centuries ago, and the people of Indonesia.
Taken in Washington D. C.
At Sarah Lawrence, I have attended courses where we talk about the Other, including natives that are the epicenter of an anthropological study, or members of the ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) Movement. This semester, I am taking a class on Trauma, Loss and Resilience, a psychology course that has talks a whole lot about PTSD. After laying down the groundwork of PTSD, we read various articles on the affects of PTSD in the U.S. Military.

A granddaughter of an Indonesian soldier, I have grown to love martial arts, target shooting, war stories, and the armed forces, whether it is in Indonesia, England, or America. However, most of my childhood was colored by less tragic stories of war. Yes, there's this one tale where the child of a neighbor misused his father's gun while playing and shot himself. And yes, my great-uncle served in Congo and Timor Timur as an army physician. Yes, it took me about seventeen years, until I got to college and began living in the U.S., to really delve into the mental health issues of war and the military. As an international student, I rarely interact with members of the United States Armed Forces, other than in airports. Instead, I have presumptions about how they are after they shed the uniform. I thought that we did leave soldiers out of the conversation, we would have incomplete information and were distancing ourselves from them. On a more delusional basis, I guess, I felt like we were avoiding them and talking about them behind their backs. 

This week, the TLR class had the honors of speaking to three American veterans and the spouse of a soldier. They came to represent the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a well-established organization for veterans and their families. For more than an hour, we had a conversation with all four members of the group, learned about the organization, as well as heard about experiences during and after the military. They provided us with useful information on how to reach out and breach the gap between the military, especially veterans, and civilians. 

Cucu Tentara = Grandchild of a Soldier
They even translated the experiences that many human beings have experienced, universally, in a concrete manner. One of the speakers said, something along the lines of "Don't assume or I'll get mad," which is a message that transcends different bounds, including race, occupation, class, socioeconomic status, and nationality. It also leaves a reminder for the field of PTSD, in the sense that researchers should always be aware that their participants are individuals with different experiences and backgrounds. And even though, on a statistical level, we could lump them up together, it is also highly critical to explore the varying threads of experiences that those with PTSD have. 

Most importantly, they gave insight into their own experience with PTSD or with the hardship of coming home from war. "Slip between the cracks," was a prominent message that illustrated how many army men and women return home and struggle with their daily lives, families, and future. Personally, I appreciated the opportunity to interact with the speakers because it made the issues more palpable. Moreover, they showed ways for students to get involved, through internships or volunteer work. 

Speaking openly about war, which is simultaneously ancient and relevant, universal and personal, as well as disrupting and striving towards peace, and the impact it has on individuals provides a more comprehensive story that will definitely help me in my studies and general understanding of the experience. Thank you IAVA and our TLR professor (I won't name names) for making it possible!
*Author owns rights to the photos above

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