Andersen:‘War Stories’ for communities |

Andersen:‘War Stories’ for communities

“Thank you for your service” has become a caring yet empty mantra among civilians who don’t know how else to address a veteran or a soldier in uniform. You hear it a lot at airports, one of the few public places where civilians and military often mix.

For many veterans, that phrase burns. They know it’s meant in kindness, but the truth is that few, if any, civilians understand what a soldier’s service has meant. How could they? They’ve never been allowed to know.

In the passing moment of a brief contact, a veteran or soldier smiles, says “thanks,” and marches on at the other end of an enormous gulf that separates veterans from the rest of America. It is this social gulf that psychologist Ed Tick attempts to bridge in his keystone book, “Warrior’s Return.”

“We are all wounded by war,” he wrote. “Grandparents, parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, care providers, teachers, taxpayers are all caught in war’s long and crushing tentacles. Our entire society reels in pain, exhaustion, despair, and debt. Look closely. All lives are affected and we all need to be concerned.”

“War Stories,” a five-part discussion series starting March 11 at the Basalt Regional Library, will attempt to reconnect veterans and communities through literature and stories. This library-sponsored program has grown out of Huts for Vets, the nonprofit summer program I run for combat veterans in the wilderness at the 10th Mountain Huts.

“War Stories” is free and open to civilians and veterans who have the depth and strength to approach together some difficult and often graphically painful subject matter. The literature I’ve assembled as preassigned readings is some of the best that’s come out of war since Homer wrote the “Iliad” 2,500 years ago.

Some of the most potent material is contemporary, written by post-9/11 veterans who describe what few civilians know or perhaps wish to know. Rather than leave it for veterans to carry by themselves, “War Stories” offers a shared experience that is much-needed if we are ever to heal our divided culture.

President Barack Obama, after recently signing the Hunt Bill for veteran suicide prevention, made it a national responsibility to bring veterans back into the fold of American life.

“This is not just a job for government,” Obama said. “Every community, every American can reach out and do more with and for our veterans. This has to be a national mission.”

“War Stories” will attempt to bridge the gap between veterans and civilians through literature and personal accounts. We will explore veteran literature from the front lines of combat to the psychological and social impacts of war following their service.

Text-driven discussions will include history, psychology, songs, poetry, cartoons, fiction and nonfiction, and they will include veterans who can offer context from their war experiences. Ideally, “War Stories” will tear down the walls between civilians and veterans through shared experiences and vulnerabilities.

Both civilians and veterans may shy from such an engagement. Few civilians willingly confront the grim side of war, and few veterans are willing to risk educating the public on the depths of psychological wounds, which often fester decades after service.

“War Stories” is an experiment to see whether these distinct factions can rejoin in a community endeavor that seeks common cause. The first requirement is that local civilians and veterans are willing to become part of a healing dialogue.

Program dates are March 11 and 23, April 6 and 28 and May 12. Discussions run from 5:30 to 7 p.m. It would be ideal for participants to sign up for the entire series, committing to a process of assimilation and new relationships.

A notebook of readings for the full series is available Wednesday. Today, two weeks before the program, to be picked up at the library circulation desk, where registration is required. Space is limited, so please sign up early either in person or by calling the library at 970-927-4311.

Your place at the table may open your heart to those around you. It also may give you the opportunity to say, “Thank you for your service,” and at least have an idea of what that service has meant.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at

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