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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New Anthology Delivers Insights From the Front Lines

New Anthology Delivers Insights From the Front Lines

Andrew Carroll sat cross-legged near the Stephen E. Smith Center at the JFK Library and Museum on an unseasonably warm Veteran’s Day, signing copies of his latest work, Operation Homecoming. JFK Library and Museum is one of many stops that Carroll and a group of United States Armed Services personnel who contributed to Operation Homecoming are scheduled to make around the country.Operation Homecoming is an anthology, edited by Carroll, that tells the stories of military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is the result of a project conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The submissions are authored by the military men and women themselves. The project encourages returning military personnel to document their war-time experience.To promote the project, three military personnel, Commander Edward M. Jewell, Major Paul D. Danielson and Commander Kathleen Toomey Jabs, shared excerpts from their submissions; Carroll moderated the program. Carroll stated that he had misgivings about the project when it was presented to him by the NEA. He felt that it would be difficult to get quality literary material from folks who are known for their stoic discipline. When one thinks of the unflappable US military professional seldom does the image of sensitive scribe come to mind. Carroll also feared that the project risked being redundant. “What was there left to write that hasn’t already been written about war?” he asked. Another question was whether or not the NEA had the stomach for graphic and intense material that would surely accompany material written by those who had served in the trenches. Of these concerns Carroll offered one answer: “I was wrong.” According to Carroll the response to the project was overwhelming. The project proved that the writing process serves as an emotional outlet for the returning military personnel. In a film prepared for the Kennedy forum, a soldier commented about what the project had meant to him, “I don’t think I would have survived this. The project opened a whole new world to me.”According to Carroll, the strength of the collection is in its diversity of content. Indeed a unique feature of this collection is its incorporation of the people left behind at home. Military families were also included in the creative process.As for the graphic nature issue, the distinction between “editing for reading” and “editing for content” was made clear. Of course the soldiers, like any writers, need help with issues of clarity but when it comes to the question of censorship, Carroll insists that the NEA made little effort to change the sometimes brutal nature of the literature.The project became less about “soldiers writing” and more about “authors writing about war.” When asked the question, “Do you consider yourself a writer?” a contributor to ‘Operation Homecoming’ answered, “Do I consider myself a writer? Yes. I consider myself a writer.”Carroll added, “It is we who are the beneficiaries. In this book we are introduced to a new community of writers. These are the next Kurt Vonneguts and Tim O’Briens.”Commander Edward M. Jewell, a physician on a hospital ship, spoke about his interactions with injured enemy combatants. His story spoke of the ironic nature of helping people who would perhaps hurt you in the future. Major Paul D. Danielson, a member of the Army Reserve, Medical Corps, and Surgical Team spoke about homesickness and the “perverse” wish for more casualties to alleviate the incessant boredom that comes with war. Commander Kathleen Toomey Jabs, Navy Reserve, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared an excerpt from her fictional account of a military mom. The mother had to explain to her young son that he was going to have to leave his favorite toy behind because it did not meet airline regulations. When she tells her son that they will come back for “Blackie” the toy horse, there is a degree of uncertainty in her words. The presentation was part of a series of forums conducted by the Kennedy Library and Museum located in Dorchester. A list of up-coming events is available at the museum’s website: www.jfklibrary.org/.