Living with War in Watertown
This morning I was reading a section of Nancy Welch’s Living Room (2008),a pedagogical theory book that tackles the task of teaching public writing and writing as resistence in the post-9/11 era of government infringement on intellectual freedom. One of the “success stories” Welch mentions is a new coffee house in my hometown, Watertown, NY. Different Drummer’s Café,which is located in the Paddock Arcade, is a space for GIs stationed at Fort Drum to engage in conversation, practice forms of civil disobedience, and (most importantly) receive counseling for issues and symptoms related to deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The coffee shop, a venture of the Citizen Soldier organization, exists to “promote the free and uncensored exchange of ideas and information among active duty and reserve military personnel and civilians.” Such dialogue includes “issues of war and peace, foreign policy, [and] the military mission of our soldiers both at home and abroad.” Further, the café provides poetry readings, live music, comedy, and reflections, or, in other words, the type of quality restorative fellowship heretofore offered by the Salmon Run Mall alone.
I never thought the day would come in Watertown, a modest-sized city where any public questioning of the war effort whatsoever usually is met with resistance, when an organized haven of resistance and restoration would emerge. The church I attended in Watertown reminded me of a faith-based USO rally as much as it served me as a community of spiritual nourishment. Worse, though, it struggled to condemn the war effort by using the biblical message of social justice. For a town whose economic well-being rests exclusively on the presence of Fort Drum, the most-deployed military base in the world, attitudes toward the war in Iraq are typically positive, or at least they were when I last lived there for any length of time.
It’s no surprise, then, that “local media” outlets like The Watertown Daily Times refract the happenings of the Different Drummer Café with an attitude of deadpan dismissal, bordering on disapproval. Recently, Spc. Bryan Currie refused to report for duty, arguing that he suffers from PTSD. This AWOL is being supported by the café.
I commend the Different Drummer Café for its commitment to the well-being of soldiers in the Northern New York area. It’s a much needed counterpoint in a community that has, until this point, offered dive bars and a shopping mall to restore the lives of Army veterans.