Review in ARMY Magazine

There is a nice review of Bringing It All Back Home in the April edition of ARMY, the magazine of the Association of the United States Army.

Assistant Managing Editor Jeremy Dow writes:

Bringing It All Back Home is more than just a collection of biographical sketches of veterans. Napoli writes about positive traits and experiences of Vietnam War veterans that need to be recognized. In doing so, however, he does more than just tell the reader about veterans of a conflict that ended several decades ago; he reminds us that their sacrifices deserve as much attention and appreciation as those of today’s veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Read the full review after the jump.

 

For the Confused

I have begun to get hate mail from people confused about my identity.

A news story from February 28, 2014 (here is one example) indicated that “Philip Napoli from Fordham University” participated in or contributed to a “Federal Communications Commission plan to have government contractors question journalists about editorial decisions and practices.”

I teach at Brooklyn College — not Fordham. I had no involvement with that study, and have no connection to Fordham.

I work on 20th Century US social and public history, not communications policy.

My most recent book is about New York City’s Vietnam veterans.

To see my CV, click here.

Review from H-War

H-Net is a set of academic list servs. A reviewer for one of them, H-War, has published a very nice review of Brining It All Back Home.

The reviewer, Joshua Akers, writes:

“Napoli clearly demonstrates how historians should employ the subjective nature of oral histories to break down stereotypes and interpretations that pigeonhole veterans into roles such as victim. Bringing It All Back Home forces us to reconsider one principle in our own historical research: the experiences of historical actors are subjective and unique, and the interpretations we derive from these sources are likewise limited and open to counternarrative and complication. As Napoli contends, we should eschew explanatory interpretations that pretend to use the experiences of a few veterans to describe those of many.” (Read the remainder here.)

I’m grateful that the reviewer took the time to think through the implications of what I tried to accomplish.

Mr. Akers says he would have liked to have a better sense of the questions I asked in the interviews. The word-count restrictions I had to work with at a commercial publisher made it impossible to include that material in the book, and given the fact that some interviews lasted 25 hours or more, a complete list of questions asked would not be possible to assemble.

But my interview guide is on this site, and can be found here. This will provide a general sense of how I conducted these interviews.

Alternate Ending

Bringing It All Back Home, my book about Vietnam veterans, went through many editors and was revised numerous times on its way to publication.

I have pasted below a few concluding paragraphs that I personally found meaningful, but were cut in the editorial process.

I’m prompted to post this because of a comment I received on my YouTube page, which has some clips from the interviews I did for the book.

A person clearly had watched my interview with Tony Wallace, in which he tells the story of being wounded on April 15, 1970. The individual wrote, “I met this gentleman while riding on the Q113 bus… I have the so much respect for Vietnam vets. We should all support them.”

***

Over the years that have elapsed since I began this project, Tony Wallace and I have grown close. We have made many trips together on Veterans Day. In 2008 we attended the ceremony at the Wall in DC. We spent the afternoon there, in the cold drizzle of a Washington November day, listening to various speakers tell us of their experiences, and about the meaning of the wall. The green of the Capital Mall lawn was covered with folding chairs and umbrellas, as the afternoon wound down. As we were leaving, Tony sought out a homeless veteran he had met at the Wall earlier in the year, and gave the man a new coat and a new pair of shoes that he had brought from New York just for that purpose. We chatted with him for a while and took photos as the night gathered.

After we got back to the hotel room we shared and prepared for sleep, from the other side of the room, Tony said, “I think it is time for you to see this.”

Already in his pajamas, he knelt down and peeled back the pajama top revealing the deep and ugly scars from the blast that had killed Wolf, Pepe and DiSantis. The blast had changed his life forever. There, on his knees, he exposed his back to me for several moments. It is very hard to describe what I saw. The skin had been torn; it was discolored. There were scars that had not healed properly and you could see the effects of several skin grafts that had been done to try to close the wound. Where the skin was not torn, it was peppered with scars where shrapnel had entered his body. Tony rose and re-buttoned his top.

“Now you know,” was all he said.

I don’t recall that I responded at all.

We went to sleep.

The next morning over breakfast, I said to him that what he had done was enormously powerful for me. He had shown me what only two other people had ever seen; his wife and his doctor. I said that I thought I understood the metaphorical and symbolic significance of showing me his wound on a weekend filled with both memory and celebration. I told him that seeing a black man on his knees in front of me was a humbling experience and a frightening one. The racial symbolism of that moment, so deeply fraught in American history, with its legacy of violence, exploitation, humiliation and fear left me deeply moved. As a result of his bravery, his willingness to share and be vulnerable had seemed to shift me into a subset of people, privileged enough to see first hand one version of how badly damaged a Vietnam veteran could be.

Tony’s response was;

“Yes, I knew that you would see that. But, he continued, I was also thinking of another thing. I was thinking of the way Christ washed the feet of the sinners.”

In Tony’s world, true knowledge and enlightenment can only come about by understanding the significance of the sacrifice Christ made on behalf of all of us. By reenacting, in a symbolic way, Christ’s humility, Tony was offering me a way of understanding both his Vietnam, and his life. He sees himself as a man whose life, in some respects, is not his own. The sacrifice he made on behalf of others is precisely what has made the memory, and the scars, of the Vietnam war bearable for him. He served as Christ served.

It doesn’t matter if we do or do not share Tony’s Christian belief system. What is relevant here is that Tony has developed a way of understanding his life; in academic terms, he has developed a narrative which gives meaning to the events of April 1970.

This book has been an effort to listen to the stories that Vietnam veterans tell about themselves. As they recounted their autobiographies, soldiers and their families incorporated the events of the Vietnam era in to the trajectory of their lives, creating a meaningful explanation of how they came to be the people that they are. Vietnam has profoundly shaped the men and women who served there. By asking them to narrate their entire lives can we begin to see the long term affect of military service.

For those of us that did not experience it, we have very little context for understanding how difficult it can be to revisit, emotionally and psychologically, the trauma they experienced.  There is a cost involved every time they speak out to share their experiences. On the other hand, I have seen that in the process of sharing the burdens can become lighter.

For these interviews, these veterans were willing to pay the price, not for their own glorification, but so that they could continue to educate us. Through them we learn about how this unique time in history created a perfect storm of circumstances that would alter the nation and our view of war forever. We learned how to separate the war and the warrior, and the importance of treating every soldier that we send into battle with respect and honor, regardless of personal opinion about the political merits of the war.

These veterans have never given up hope that they would be recognized for their service, but this does not seem to be what motivates them. This is their true legacy. They have taught us to persevere in the face of adversity, to fight for justice and self respect, to use experiences, no matter how unfair or traumatic, to serve a greater good and whenever possible enable each other to do so.

And to remember.

 

 

The Lobotomy Files

I’m sick to my stomach. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal today:

“The U.S. government lobotomized roughly 2,000 mentally ill veterans—and likely hundreds more—during and after World War II, according to a cache of forgotten memos, letters and government reports unearthed by The Wall Street Journal. Besieged by psychologically damaged troops returning from the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Veterans Administration performed the brain-altering operation on former servicemen it diagnosed as depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”

http://projects.wsj.com/lobotomyfiles/?ch=one

Anouncement

CONVERSION: A German-American Chogeography

Funded through the Doppelpass-Program by the German Federal Cultural Foundation 2013–2015

The Search

In the course of our research work in Heidelberg regarding the closing of all US military installations in the city, we are looking for German and US citizens, who have any kind of connection to the presence of the American troops in Heidelberg between 1945 and 2013.

This connection may have been established through service in the US Forces, private or professional contacts, family members, friends or other encounters. Also we would like to get in contact with American and German military personnel or veterans who have served in Afghanistan in order to conduct an interview in or around their home or workplace.

The Project

After nearly 70 years of continuous presence in Heidelberg nearly 8.000 US soldiers and their families are leaving the city. This process marks the end of an era and has been the initial point of a two-year collaboration between the Hamburg based costa compagnie and the Theater and Orchestra Heidelberg.

Under the title CONVERSION the time of the U.S. military presence will be resear-
ched, analyzed and transformed into interdisciplinary performances. These will be staged at the former military installations as well as at the theater of Heidelberg itself. The current spatial conversion process within the city has created the initiating conceptual impulse for the project. The objective is to lay open the traces of this era, look into the stories of „the occupation force“ and „the occupied“, of neighbors and colleagues, of friends and fellows and approach the past 70 years of German-American history and partnership.

In the first year, we will follow the leads from Heidelberg back into the world and visit former US soldiers and their families in their hometowns in the United States.

There, we will collect individual stories and memories in form of interviews, as well as video footage and digital audio. This material will be the base for the artistic en devour.

In the second year of the project, research will take place in Afghanistan. The phase will focus on the local troop reduction of the allied German and American forces in 2014. The aim is to analyze current forms of military presence abroad and to look into an example for the development of the German-American relationship within the past 70 years.

Relevant overall questions along the phases are: How do Americans relate to the city of Heidelberg and their former posts? How has the German-American relationship developed in the past 70 years? Which traces does a military presence leave behind on both sides? Where do world politics meet everyday stories?

In July 2014, the first premiere will take place at a former US military installation in Heidelberg. In May 2015 a second large work is shown at the two main stages of the theater. The basis of the project will be formed by the two research trips, which are being accompanied by laboratories and workshops in Heidelberg. The collected material is also displayed to the public in form of lecture performances, an audio-walk through the barracks and academic symposia.

Who we are

The costa compagnie was founded in Hamburg in 2009 and consists of members from the areas of directing, choreography, music, performance, visual arts, video and drama. The independent group focuses on global transformation processes as well as on the individual facing disaster. In their recent work

“Fukushima, my love,” the group researched in Japan, collected many personal interviews and transformed the results into a dance-performance in Hamburg with subsequent shows in other national theaters.

The Theater and Orchestra Heidelberg was founded in the mid-19th century and celebrated its re-opening after three years of renovation and construction in November 2012. The house includes autonomous sections of opera, drama, dance, children’s theater and an own philharmonic orchestra. It stands for high-class ensembles, continuous support for contemporary authors and a keen interest in modern theater and opera forms.

For further information please visit: www.theaterheidelberg.de and www.costacompagnie.org

Contact:

Felix Meyer-Christian / Director
Mail: fmc@costacompagnie.org
Phone: +49.152.5364.2837

Stawrula Panagiotaki / Literary Adviser
Mail: dramaturgie@costacompagnie.org
Phone: +49.177.972.2379

Stawrula Panagiotaki / Literary Adviser
Mail: dramaturgie@costacompagnie.org
Phone: +49.177.972.2379