The Meaning of Home: Toni Morrison, The Odyssey, PTSD, and the Conference on Democracy

Image from the hardcover edition of Toni Morrison’s Home

Last week, I was honored to co-lead a discussion with Wanda Holland Greene, Head of The Hamlin School, and her husband Robert Green, Director of Community Connections at Marin Country Day School. We joined more than a dozen parents at a private home in San Francisco to talk about Toni Morrison’s new book, Home. As described by the publisher, “America’s most celebrated novelist, Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison extends her profound take on our history with this twentieth-century tale of redemption: a taut and tortured story about one man’s desperate search for himself in a world disfigured by war.”

Cover from the Penguin Classics edition of The Odyssey

The story focuses on two siblings: Frank, a Korean War veteran, and his younger sister Cee, a woman who is dying at the hands of a sadistic physician. The story references The Odyssey—it is a tale of transformation, journey, and return—with powerful layers of race and class. I taught The Odyssey for more than a decade in several schools, and the poem is one of my favorites. Both Odysseus and Frank are noble men suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, returning home to places that are both familiar and foreign. Both stories raises important questions of what—and where—is home?

Tonight, our Thacher Lecture (as part of the Conference on Democracy) will address this very subject. Three-time National Photographic Press Association Photographer of the Year and Emmy-winning filmmaker John Freidah and Pulitzer Prize Finalist and best-selling author Dave Philipps will present and discuss their work on the struggles of US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with the readjustment to life at home. The lecture will include a screening of Freidah’s film The War on Terror: Coming Home and conversation about Philipps’s book Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home.

John Freidah

We’re excited to welcome John back to MA: in 2006, he visited the Marin Academy Conference on Democracy to present the stories of soldiers he observed in Iraq while embedded with a Rhode Island National Guard Unit. He returns this year to discuss his film, which follows some of these same soldiers as they attempt to readjust to life stateside.

Dave Philipps brings to life the chilling story of how today’s American heroes are slipping through the fingers of society—with multiple tours of duty and inadequate mental-health support creating a crisis of PTSD and a large-scale failure of veterans to reintegrate into society. Following the frightening narrative of the 506th Infantry Regiment—who had rebranded themselves as the Lethal Warriors after decades as the Band of Brothers—he reveals how the painful realities of war have multiplied in recent years, with tragic outcomes for America’s soldiers, compounded by an indifferent government and a shrinking societal safety net.

Dave Philipps

John and Dave will also present a conference session for students on Friday, and visit several classrooms on Monday. I’m excited that we’re expanding the notion of the Thacher Lecture beyond one evening of speaking in order to enrich the learning experience of our students.

On a personal note, my father was a submarine captain who served in the Navy at home during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During my childhood, he often was at sea for three months at a time. On one occasion, when I was perhaps five years old, I didn’t recognize him once he returned. I know from experience how difficult it is for military personnel and their families to be involved in war, and hope that we, as Americans, will continue conversations about the physical and psychological injuries sustained in combat, and be more mindful about sending people to war—and honoring them when they return.

You can watch The War on Terror: Coming Home in its entirety on YouTube (or below), thanks to the Providence Journal.


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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