October 18, 2011

Women, War & Peace

What if you looked at war as though women mattered? What if you looked at peace as though women mattered? These two questions are at the heart of a five-hour series, Women, War & Peace, a comprehensive global media initiative on the changing roles of women in war and peace. 

Filmed in conflict zones in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, and Liberia, Women, War & Peace couldn’t be timelier. As the recent developments in Afghanistan make headlines around the world, Women, War & Peace places women at the center of an urgent dialogue about conflict and security.

Among the women spotlighted are Afghan women’s rights activists who are risking their lives to make sure that women have a seat at the table in peace talks with the Taliban; the courageous Bosnian women who broke history’s great silence and testified about their rape and sexual enslavement, leading to ahistoric court victory; two extraordinary Colombian women who are braving death threats to remain on the gold-rich land that has sustained their community for centuries; and a group of Liberian women, led by activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who faced down the killers and brought peace to theircountry.  The Liberian women’s inspiring story is told in the award-winning documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, airing for the first time on U.S. television as part of Women, War & Peace.

As Women, War & Peace reveals, the majority of today’s conflicts are not fought by nations and their armies, but rather by gangs, insurgent groups, and warlords armed with small arms and improvised weapons. Women have become primary targets in these conflicts and though they are suffering unprecedented casualties they are simultaneously emerging as critical partners in brokering peace and as leaders in forging new international laws governing conflict. For five consecutive weeks, Women, War & Peace focuses on the under-reported stories of the women who are changing the rules of engagement in conflict hotspots all over the world, reframing our understanding of modern warfare.

To extend public awareness, political debate, and community action around the issues showcased in Women, War & Peace, this series also offers an outreach and audience engagement campaign intended toaugment audiences before, during, and after the series premiere in October 2011. In addition, this fall, Women, War & Peace joins the collection of films offered by Women and Girls Lead  for free community screenings leading up to the series’ premiere. Women and Girls Lead is a multi-year public media initiative to focus, educate, and connect citizens worldwide in support of the issues facing women and girls.

Accompanying the broadcast of Women, War & Peace is a companion website (womenwarandpeace.org) featuring video clips, audio interviews, behind-the-scenes reports from filmmakers and stakeholders, original reporting, web-exclusive content, interviews with leading scholars and journalists, and educator and facilitator guides.

Scott Witzke
WTIU - Television from Indiana University

Women, War & Peace airs every Tuesday at 10pm on WTIU Public Television through November 8. The schedule includes “I Came to Testify” (October 11), “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” (October 18) “Peace Unveiled” (October 25) “The War We Are Living (November 1) and “War Redefined” (November 8).

October 17, 2011

The Things They Carried

The first time I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, I was a freshman enthralled by my recent ascension to higher education. The novel deeply affected me - encouraging me to think about how our country perceives war, freedom, and mandatory service. I read the novel for a second time this month, and this time around the story resonated with me with even more force. I have applied for a Navy scholarship to go to medical school, and to complete my application, I was required to have a military physical. I moved through a series of diagnostic tests and examinations at MEPS- the Military Entrance Processing Station- an enormous, intimidating government building. As I moved from one testing state to another (with my wallet, cell phone, and personal belonging stored in a locker), I carried around one thing - copy of The Things They Carried. While I watched mostly 17-18 year-old young men complete their final steps before heading off to boot camp, I grappled with how our country perceives war, freedom, and our volunteer army.

Moving from a more anecdotal lens to a more analytical perspective, let me discuss the final story in The Things They Carried and my opinion of its significance. I believe the final story, the first story in O’Brien’s life, serves as a strong and unifying ending for the entire novel. As readers, we gain more insight into O’Brien’s long-lasting quest to understand death and what is means to die. Besides the numerous encounters O’Brien has with death and dead loved ones during the war, we learn that he has been grappling with death since his first love, Linda, died when they were just nine years old. I consider it more of an ending than a beginning because to me, it functions as the final curvature of the archetypal story circle. As O’Brien alludes to throughout the novel, this is not simply a war story; it is a story about the emotions of war. And after reading the final story, I believe this is a novel about the emotions of death, and how to cope with loss, grief, embarrassment, and guilt. I believe it is a book to honor those who have died, and way to keep people alive, at least in memory. While the soldiers in the novel “carried” many things (weapons, food, family heirlooms), O’Brien mentions early in the novel that “They all carried ghosts.”  At the end of the novel, we learn that in addition to the war-related ghosts that the character O’Brien carries, he also carries the ghost of Linda, representing the most basic and primal desire to understand death and what it means to die. As I continue on my path to become a Navy physician, I too wonder about death and dying and how such powerful human concepts are viewed in light of war and conflict.

Andrea Wolf

Andrea Wolf is a senior at Indiana University.

Author Tim O'Brien will speak about The Things They Carried on Wednesday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Ballantine 013.

October 13, 2011

My Vietnam Your Iraq – The Backstory

One of the veterans I interviewed for My Vietnam Your Iraq said, “I wasn’t in college and all the guys around me were getting drafted so I knew I’d be going.” That was my story as well. In 1968, a neighborhood friend of mine had joined the Marines and was killed in Da Nang only several weeks after he arrived. His tragic death had an impact on me and I realized that I didn’t want to end up in a combat unit in Vietnam. I passed my Army physical later in 1968 and while waiting for my orders I decided to join the Navy. I knew this was the right decision for me, even though the enlistment would be 4 years instead of the 2 years required for a draftee.

I hugged my mom and my dad and boarded a train from Chicago to Great Lakes Illinois on December 28, 1968. I spent the majority of the next four years onboard the USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier operating in the waters off the coast of Vietnam. After each of my three WESTPAC cruises to the South China Sea I’d come home on leave and saw first-hand the growing resistance to our involvement in the War.  Whether we agreed or disagreed with the war effort, it was a confusing time.

I was discharged from active duty in 1972 and attended community college only one day after I returned home. I felt like a fish out of water as I wandered through the campus, but a serendipitous encounter changed that. I met a young woman in class that first day and we began dating several months later. Finding a job, going to school and having a girl friend made my transition home a positive experience. By the way, we celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary in June 2011.

Through most of my adult life I tried to forget about my military service. I was fortunate to have a wonderful family and good career. I also know first-hand that many did not come home and others came home with trauma and life-long injuries.  

In 2004 I was working on a documentary with John Mellencamp and there was a lot of discussion about the war in Iraq and supporting the troops, but not the War. Some of the band members were too young to understand that it was considerably different during the Vietnam years and it wasn’t uncommon for a veteran to be identified as a baby killer.

In 2005 I heard that there was going to be a dedication of a new Vietnam Veterans Memorial in my hometown, Chicago. I also found out that the Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW) would be hosting a protest a few bocks away and immediately after the dedication ended.

At the dedication I saw hundreds of men my age in the audience. Many were wearing something to identify them as a Vietnam veteran. The event included short welcome and dedication speeches from several politicians and dignitaries.   In addition, a military band played and an aircraft fly over completed the celebration.

Afterwards, I walked a few minutes to the VVAW protest. I was a VVAW member in 1972 and was curious why they were still active more than 30 years later.  At the meeting I heard a speaker offer assistance to veterans trying to navigate the VA medical system and I was happy to hear about that initiative.  Next a few young veterans who had returned from Iraq spoke out against their war. After the event was over and people were cleaning up and leaving I went up to one of these young soldiers and told him it was brave of him to speak out in public while still on active duty. He looked towards me, having a hard time making eye contact, and said that his dad would be very disappointed in him. I told him I understood but that I was hopeful they would still be respectful of each other. He went on to say that his dad was a Vietnam era veteran and had been so proud when his son had joined the Army.

While driving home to Bloomington I kept thinking how sad this was. I thought back to how my dad (WWII veteran) had reacted towards my negativity about Vietnam. He didn’t understand, but he didn’t let that interfere with our relationship. I wish he were here today to watch the documentary.

Within days I started to research the feasibility of creating a documentary that would tell stories about the pride, fear and other emotions between a parent who served in Vietnam and a child serving in Iraq. During my research I came across a newspaper story headline. It read, “He should be burying me.”  After reading the story I decided that I would move forward with the idea. The next step was locating families and the challenge of telling their stories.

As I reflect back I can say that the journey was a powerful experience and finishing the documentary was an added bonus. To be invited in their homes and hear their personal stories were cherished moments. The families were inspiring and thoughtful, struggling and successful, and every one of them is now a friend of mine. Welcome home.

Ron Osgood
Department of Telecommunications
IU College of Arts and Sciences

Ron Osgood's My Vietnam, Your Iraq will be shown tonight (Thursday, October 13) at 7:00 at IU Cinema.

October 11, 2011

The Jerusalem Project 1991-2011

On October 12, from 1:30-4:30 in the Mathers Museum of World Culture, Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. scholars will address the terms of engagement that emerge and diverge in the occupied/disputed/contested city of Jerusalem. In light of the recent human rights violations against Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, they will discuss boundaries and border crossings between political activism and academic research as well as the prospects and pitfalls of scholarly “dialogue” projects that engage across Israeli and Palestinian lines in the city.

Participants will draw upon their twenty-year engagement in developing the Jerusalem Project’s ethnographic and pedagogic programs as well as their ongoing and much longer involvement with numerous political movements and organizations to assess the prospects as well as the limits of such engagements.

The forum will draw upon the twenty-year experience of this folklore-based project in asking how folklorists can be effective in resisting the human rights violations against Palestinian residents of the city.

History of the Project
The Jerusalem Project began in 1992 under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage as a research initiative among Israeli, Palestinian and US scholars. In 1992-93, parallel and self-determined Israeli and Palestinian research teams conducted ethnographic research on the cultures and identities in contemporary Jerusalem. The research teams, led by Galit Hasan-Rokem (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Suad Amiry (Bir Zeit University) in coordination with Jerusalem Project director, Amy Horowitz (Smithsonian/OSU), recorded tales and memories of cooks, poets, folk healers, craftspeople, storytellers, and other cultural practitioners and community leaders. This ethnographic portrait, initially intended as the basis for a Smithsonian Folklife Festival program, presents Jerusalem's human legacy—people who, in the early 1990s, try to live ordinary lives under extraordinary conditions.

In 1996, the research teams developed a thirty-minute video documentary project based on their ethnographic findings.  The video project continued to explore the ethnographic method that had been developed, with parallel and self-determined Israeli and Palestinian directors, editors, and researchers who created two video snapshots of cultural life in the city. The video, Jerusalem: Gates to the City is distributed by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.  In 1999, ten Muslim and Jewish liturgical practitioners from the earlier ethnographic phase traveled to Washington to participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Sacred Sounds program.

In 2001, the Living Jerusalem Project relocated to its current academic home at The Ohio State University Mershon Center for International Security Studies. In 2006, the Mershon Center hosted a working conference attended by Jerusalem Project team members from Israel, Palestine and the US. Outcomes of this meeting include: 1) an International Studies/Folklore course entitled Living Jerusalem, 2) a Living Jerusalem mini-study tour, and 3) an edited volume of essays by Jerusalem project scholars (now in manuscript form).

Today, archival holdings containing the ethnographic materials from the early 1990s are housed at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bir Zeit University and The Ohio State University. The archives include over 100 interviews with cultural practitioners, audiotapes, photographs, and forty hours of raw broadcast-quality video footage.

Please join us on October 12.  

Amy Horowitz

Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Comparative Studies
Lecturer, International Studies Program
The Mershon Center
The Ohio State University
The author is currently a visiting scholar at Indiana University.

A roundtable discussion "Folklore in Jerusalem between War and (no) Peace: The Jerusalem Project 1991-2011" will take place on October 12, 1:30-4:30 p.m. at Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

October 5, 2011

Tell People The Story: The Art of Gustav Potthoff

Gustav Potthoff paints to remember his fellow prisoners of war who built the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Hell Fire Pass during World War II. Concerned that those 16,000 fallen soldiers will be forgotten, the artist paints to tell people his story and to find peace among the horrors of war by commemorating those who died while building the Thailand-Burma Railway.  

Born in Indonesia and raise in a Dutch colonial orphanage, Gus enlisted as a mechanic for the Netherlands Army Tank Battalion in Bandoeng, Java, in 1941. He was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army soon after his deployment, and remained a prisoner of war until the end of World War II. During his imprisonment, he was subjected to a brutal regimen of labor, which included the construction of the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai and the Hell Fire Pass in the borderlands of Burma and Thailand. He vividly brings to life his war-time experiences on canvas. 

In 1998, Gus returned to Thailand for a Memorial for the POWs who died building the Thailand-Burma Railway. While walking a length of the Hellfire Pass, he pulled out his harmonica and played a song for the souls left behind. As he played, a cloud of beautiful butterflies swarmed around him. He knew those were the spirits of the fallen come to thank him for his remembrance. 

When Gus visited the Hellfire Pass, he saw a tree growing in the middle of the pass. The deep cut through the mountain that cost so many lives is slowly being reclaimed by nature. The tree is a symbol of healing in Gus's art.  

At home, Gus often sits on his front porch and plays improvised melodies on his harmonica in tribute. Like his paintings, his music is a creative offering to the spirits of his friends. His paintings and songs are gifts that he freely gives so others will remember the lost POWs. When asked why he does not sell his paintings, he explains,

I do my work because I promised to do. 
The remembering of friends,
Tell people the story. 
And that's what I do [it] for, just tell people story.

Jon Kay
Traditional Arts Indiana

Traditional Arts Indiana will present a special outdoor exhibition at the Indiana Memorial Union Garden, entitled Tell People the Story: The Art of Gustav Potthoff. The exhibit shares the life and work of Gustav Potthoff. The temporary exhibit will be open to the public from Exhibit 10:00 am to 5:00 pm from October 12 through the 16, 2011. 

There will be a special “Meet-the-Artist” program at noon on Saturday October 15, 2011. Gustav will be meet and talk to the public at Indiana University's Memorial Union Garden on that day.

October 3, 2011

Peace, War, Folklore

A quilt at the Mathers Museum  

When the American Folklore Society (AFS) selected Indiana University’s Bloomington campus for the location of its 2011 Annual Meeting, the faculty in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology immediately realized that the “Making War, Making Peace” theme resonated with much of the work done by folklorists around the world. Modifying the theme slightly, we chose “Peace, War, Folklore” as the focus for our own conference. This has proven to be extremely fruitful, and from October 12-15 almost 800 folklorists and ethnomusicologists will come to Bloomington to participate in three days of panels and presentations, many dedicated to discussing critical issues of conflict and concord around the world.

Tales of epic warriors; games played by refugee children; lucky charms carried into battle; musical commemorations for the fallen; stories recounted by grandparents, parents, and children: the experience of war demands creative responses to violence, fear, pain, grief, and memory. Similarly, the desire to transform war into peace can be performed in traditional and artistic ways, through music and dance, protest marches, spontaneous shrines, candlelight vigils, and even through play and competition. The making of war and the making of peace are infused with forms of expressive culture that have long been of interest to scholars of folklore.

Indeed, by studying how people individually or in groups articulate their history and identity, their values and beliefs, their anxieties and joys, folklorists seek moments of creativity embedded in everyday life, such as the telling of anecdotes or the cooking of food. They also explore creativity during special occasions or extreme circumstances, when festival celebration and the performance of rituals, for example, can articulate profoundly held beliefs or deep anxieties. So it is not surprising that folklorists often find themselves working to understand how people experience situations of conflict and its aftermath. Whether in war zones or refugee camps, with immigrants, with veterans, or through studying the ethnic slurs and jokes that betray distrust between people living together, folklorists explore the many ways in which people and communities are divided, or struggle to transcend division.

The last time the AFS meeting was held in Bloomington was in 1968, during the thick of the Vietnam War, student uprisings, and peace protests around the world. Now, in a century already racked by conflicts and ongoing struggles for peace, a new generation of folklorists comes together in Bloomington to investigate similar issues.

In addition to academic panels and presentations at this year’s meeting, the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology is sponsoring a range of events and exhibitions in conjunction with the Themester. These include a discussion between Israeli and Palestinian scholars on Jerusalem, a Branigin Lecture on conflict resolution in Ethiopia, an art exhibit by a World War II POW, a quilt exhibition focusing on human rights, and a lecture by world-renowned folklorist (and IU professor emeritus) Henry Glassie who has long worked with communities in states of conflict, resistance, and uneasy peace. These events and exhibitions are open to the public and we hope members of the Bloomington community will join us in exploring issues of war and peace through the lens of folklore and folkloristics.

Michael Dylan Foster
Assistant Professor
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology
IU College of Arts and Sciences 

The American Folklore Society's annual meeting runs October 12-15. Several events are open to the public. See the schedule for dates and times.