In the summer of 2008, Jon Bellona and a crew of runners set out on a transcontinental run– the Run for the Fallen— from Fort Irwin, CA to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, one mile for each member of the American military killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The group had a powerfully uncomplicated mission statement:
Run for the Fallen is a collective of runners whose mission is clear and simple: To run one mile for every American service member killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On June 14, 2008, we run across America to raise awareness about the lives of those who fought, to activate their memories and keep their spirits alive, to support organizations that help wounded veterans and the families of those killed (Wounded Warrior Project, Yellow Ribbon Fund, HUGSS (Helping Unite Gold Star Survivors), and the 1st Lt. Michael J. Cleary Memorial Fund), and to aid the healing process for those Americans whose lives have been affected by the war.
We refuse any political affiliation or agenda, but simply honor those who have fought, and those who have fallen under the American flag.
Each of the over 4,000 miles was dedicated to one individual soldier, and an American flag and card personalized for that solider were affixed along the route as mile-markers.
While Bellona had a core of runners who joined him for the entirety of the journey, many other runners joined the group for various stretches. In addition, a film crew followed the group from pre-run preparation through the run’s conclusion, documenting it in its entirety.
The film, entitled To Them That’s Gone: A Film for the Fallen, is an integral component of the run because it advances the mission of the run– to honor the individual, specific, identified lives of those American servicemen and women who died in the Iraq war– by preserving all of those stories and broadcasting them to a wider audience.
I was working in Kentucky in the summer of 2008, and after my job ended in early August, I joined the run in northeastern Tennessee for a scant twenty-four hours, running just two miles on the route between New Tazewell and Van Hill. But a blip in the life of the run and in my own life’s timescale, that time registers among the most emotionally powerful moments of my life, and I am extremely grateful for it.
As Bellona consistently emphasized, though, the run wasn’t about the runners. It’s about those being honored, and the telling of their stories. The run, as a happening, told those stories, and the film serves the same purpose in a larger and more permanent fashion. The film crew is in a final fundraising push to finish their work, and they’ve given themselves thirty days (twenty-seven now remain) to raise the money they need. If you’re interested in backing their effort, the Kickstarter.com page is here. While on this page, view the trailer:
More video clips are available here, and still photos are available here. Finally and again, more information about this fundraising effort, including how to donate, is available at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1670101310/to-them-thats-gone-a-film-for-the-fallen.
Following my chance to hear the latest from Michael Sandel last month, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Stanley Fish, currently a professor of law and the humanities at Florida International University and a New York Times columnist. Like Sandel, Fish also has the passing distinction of being someone I read as a part of my undergraduate thesis. Unlike Sandel, this was not the first Fish lecture I had attended, as I also heard him back in the fall of 2007.
The Chautauquan Daily has complete coverage of Fish’s lecture on understanding the role of the arts and of studying the arts in contemporary society. In particular, Fish is concerned with those in and out of higher education who seek to defend the liberal arts approach to education against its critics. In a very well-crafted lecture, Fish rejected the usual arguments of the defenders of humanities education: that it inspires critical thinking, builds oral and writing skills, prepares students for later life, fosters cross-cultural understanding, and generally makes for a better citizenry.
I enjoyed the totality of the lecture, which also included a stanza-by-stanza deconstruction of George Herbert’s 1633 poem, “The Forerunners.” There was one statement from Fish, though, that particularly struck me. When explaining his position in favor of arts education but in opposition to the usual justifications for it, Fish said:
The demand for justification is always a demand that something be justified in terms not its own.
He went on to explain that even its supporters fail to “acknowledge that the arts and humanities might operate according to their own terms or that these terms might be the basis both of the value they have and of the pleasure we take in them.” Although he closed by offering a justification of sorts that seemed to mostly satisfy him (“If the study of the arts and the humanities is to be justified, it will be because it keeps alive and refurbishes glorious human artifacts that might well be lost or less available to future generations if they were no longer taught.”), the thrust of Fish’s view was that continued funding of arts education requires no justification.
Fish’s statement about demands for justification reminded me that those who accept a challenger’s invitation to justify often do a disservice to that which they are attempting to justify. For example, Christians who indulge their critics’ various demands for proof of God’s existence usually don’t especially succeed in advancing the Christian cause. Even if they do present a satisfactory justification, they have cabined their religion to the critic’s imposed terms. The Christian faith surely encompasses the rational– the scientific, the observable, the tangible, the historical– but for adherents, Christianity is broader than that. Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth century American theologian, recognized that, to the extent humans can know and understand God and the world, that understanding comes through both human reason (a gift from God) and revelation from God. To limit a “defense” of God would be both inadequate and misleading, since Christians do not know God through reason alone.
An examination of Edwards’ epistemological views on reason and revelation could fill its own post. See, e.g., here and here. The simple goal of this post is to highlight the broader application of Fish’s statement as cautioning those who would justify their views and questioning the helpfulness of asking for justifications.
I launched ALDLAND, a new blog about sports and culture, this morning. My hope is that it will develop into a multi-author site that’s both more frequently current and less frequently serious than the material that usually appears here. I fully intend to continue writing here as usual, and, as this site surges past 8,000 overall page views today, I am grateful for your continued readership.
An introduction to the new site, and the first day’s posts are available at http://aldland.wordpress.com.