Department of Classics

The Untold Stories of Modern Warriors

Fri, November 11, 2016
The Untold Stories of Modern Warriors
U.S. soldier practices donning his gas mask during a field exercise. Photo by U.S. gov.

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.

– Thucydides 

Oftentimes, we are met with spectacular images of war, depicting valiance and vilifying enemies; but these stories, some say, lack an honest narrative.

While soldiers undoubtedly exhibit heroic traits, these moments don’t define every veteran. Rather, it’s the day-to-day interactions, months of training and years of service that define their experiences; and it’s their reflections on what they endured that qualify who they are.

“We either talk about those who serve as heroes or as people who need to be helped,” says Army veteran Bart Pitchford. “That kind of binary view is not only dangerous for the relationships of America with its military, but it is dangerous for the individual veteran.”

Pitchford served active duty in the United States Army for six years and in the Army Reserves for two, completing tours in Baghdad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2007-2008) and Sana’a, Yemen (2009) and Islamabad, Pakistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (2011).

“The world of the soldier and the world of the civilian are on completely different planets,” Pitchford says. “I believe one way to bring those worlds closer together is for communities to see the real life of a soldier. We need to cut through the stories of trauma and heroism that only reinforce the wall between soldier and citizenry.”

As a Ph.D. candidate in performance as public practice at The University of Texas at Austin, Pitchford leads a group of veterans in the community in reflecting on their service through The Warrior Chorus – Humanities in Action,” housed in the Department of Classics — a single component of a national program supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Aquila Theatre Company in New York City that brings together veteran communities at UT Austin, New York University (NYU), Columbia University and the University of Southern California in a ten-week, scholar-led workshop to study classical literature as it relates to contemporary America. The twice-weekly discussions springboard into public programming that motivates new dialogues about war, conflict, comradeship, country, family and politics.

“The community needs to see itself connected to these stories,” says Pitchford, who was named a 2015-2016 Teaching Excellence Fellow. “They need to interact with the veterans and their memories instead of being a passive depository for information. They need to become open to questioning the narratives, old and new, about what it means to serve in the military.”

To read the stories of the veterans in the Warrior Chorus at UT Austin, visit Life & Letters online.

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