A US Army veteran of the Iraqi War will lead a student-initiated remembrance for veterans at the pacifist Eastern Mennonite University on 12 November 2012.
“Veterans Day is typically a holiday that pays homage to veterans with parades, concerts and celebrations,” said Evan Knappenberger, who left the army in 2007 after nearly four years of service as an enlisted man, including a year in the Iraqi war.
“Sometimes it can seem like a celebration of war and militarism, more of a political event than a remembrance. Because of this, portions of the community – especially young people and pacifists – can be left feeling alienated on this special holiday,” he explained.
Equally, he said, veterans can feel misunderstood and misrepresented as warlike by those who reject war.
Knappenberger, president of the Charlottesville chapter of Veterans for Peace, said he is working with other veterans, as well as non-veterans in the Eastern Mennonite University community, to bridge what he calls a "cultural divide" over remembrance.
Mennonites, one of the historic peace churches, are pacifist by conviction, seeing nonviolence as an integral part of the Christian gospel, rather than an "ethical add-on".
“Veterans are a sacred political cow,” Mr Knappenberger added. “They are given lip-service, swept under the rug and ignored. But many veterans are also peace advocates, pacifists, scholars, and activists."
The 12 November remembrance at Eastern Mennonite University will focus around a project called “Eyes Wide Open,” for which 200 pairs of military-issued boots will be displayed in rows in front of the central campus building at EMU, along with tags linking each pair to the deceased Virginia soldier who wore the boots in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“These boots will show the human cost of war and bring to light the cultural and social oppression of veterans as a whole,” said Mr Knappenberger, who entered EMU as a junior majoring in philosophy and theology in the fall of 2012.
“Eyes Wide Open is a powerful display of what goes on just under the surface of US foreign and economic policy, and a poignant reminder of the burdens of young soldiers’ oppression in unpopular and unsuccessful wars.”
The Eyes Wide Open display will be staffed from 9 am until 4 pm on 12 November. A talk-back event will be held in the Strite Conference Room in the Campus Centre at 9pm.
* Eastern Mennonite University: http://emu.edu/
* Re-imagining Remembrance: a report from Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/reimagining_remembrance