A U.S. Army veteran of the Iraqi War, Evan Knappenberger, led a student-initiated remembrance of veterans on Monday, Nov. 12, at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).
“Veterans Day is typically a holiday that pays homage to veterans with parades, concerts and celebration,” said 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.”
Knappenberger, president of the Charlottesville chapter of Veterans for Peace, said he is working with other veterans, as well as non-veterans in the EMU community, to bridge what he calls a “cultural divide“ on matters of military service and sacrifices.
Knappenberger said veterans can feel “oppressed,” even by “traditionally pacifist people like Mennonites who have come to be afraid of us. “
“Veterans are a sacred political cow,” he added. “They are given lip-service, swept under the rug and ignored. But many veterans are also peace advocates, pacifists, scholars, and activists.
“Regardless of politics, soldiers want to serve their country, which is an honorable thing – not to kill random people in some country they’ve never heard of. We must reach out to veterans and help them find peace.”
The Nov. 12 remembrance at EMU centered around a project called “Eyes Wide Open,” for which 200 pairs of military-issued boots were 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 show the human cost of war and bring to light the cultural and social oppression of veterans as a whole,” said 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 U.S. 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 was staffed from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Nov. 12, said Knappenberger. A talk-back event was held in the Strite Conference Room in the Campus Center at 9 that evening. Knappenberger said he welcomes inquiries and volunteers. He can be reached at email@example.com.