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Of dreams referred: 'Holding it Down' mixes veterans' war stories with music, poetry

"Holding it Down" shares experience of lived war via music, poetry
War veterans use poetry, music to share their dreams - and nightmares
Multi-media performance sends war experience through prism of dreams
October 15, 2015

Whether it’s flashbacks to war’s nightmares or the lingering pain of battle injuries, the stories of soldiers bringing their trauma home with them are numerous.

We see these sad tales as regular reports in the nightly news, or building the narrative thread through documentaries highlighting the dark side of war’s other casualties — the walking wounded.

It’s easy to feel sympathy for these veterans. But empathy? That’s not always as simple.

“There’s a notion about soldiers in this country by non-military and civilians — ‘I can’t understand your trauma. I can’t understand your pain,’ ” said Maurice Emerson Decaul, a Marine veteran, poet, essayist and playwright.

That’s where the play “Holding it Down: The Veterans' Dream Project” can help.

A multimedia performance that combines music with the spoken-word poetry/testimonials of minority veterans, “Holding it Down” shares the lived experience of war through the prism of dreams — or nightmares.

“You might not be able to understand how to feel about the way someone feels, but everyone, whether you’re a soldier or not, can relate to dreams,” Decaul said.

Vijay Iyer and Michael C. Ladd

Vijay Iyer and Michael C. Ladd

The performance starts at 7 p.m. Friday at ASU Gammage and serves as a buildup to the university’s Salute to Service, which runs from late October through Veterans Day.

Conceived in 2009 by Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer and poet Michael C. Ladd, “Holding It Down” is an amalgam of approximately 35 post-9/11 veterans’ stories, dreams and aspirations told through an 18-song set of music and poetry.

The themes, imagery, sights and smells summon the horrors of the two wars with muzzle flashes and tracers, burning diesel and open sewers, suicide bombers and insurgents and sand and melting tar.

“Some of the dreams are dark — they just are — but you can’t talk about war and not have troubling images,” said Decaul, who served from 1997 to 2002, including a stint in Iraq. “War is always complex, and I saw some pretty tragic things.”

One of those incidents is recalled in Decaul’s “Shush,” a poem about a 60-ton M1 Abrams tank that accidentally veered through a bridge guardrail and into the Euphrates River, drowning the entire crew.

Former Air Force pilot Lynn Hill adds some levity at the end of the show with her hopeful poem “Dreams In Color,” which mirrors her personal experience as a veteran and drone pilot.

“The subject of drones are such a hypersensitive and complicated topic that I didn’t want to tell anyone I was in the military for a few years,” said Hill, who moved to New York after her stint in the military to pursue an entertainment career.

“I just wanted to be normal and blend in with the masses, and be invisible. I wanted my roses to be red, my violets to be blue, my grass to be green and to see trees. I don’t want life to be black and white or green, which is what the military wants you to see. I want it to be full of colors and hues.”

Aiding in the construction of that bridge of understanding between veterans and civilians is a Q&A session following the “Holding it Down” performance.

“While it’s true that only a very small part of the population serve in the military, we know there are many who are attached to those people,” Decaul said. “We don’t care if the audience is military or civilian. Our hope is to simply connect with people and open up lanes of conversation.”

 
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Watergate's lesson: History becomes 'bogus' with bad information

John Dean: “History becomes bogus when you’re dealing with bad information.”
Watergate whistle-blower says future reporters shouldn't forget the past.
October 16, 2015

John Dean, who served as President Richard Nixon’s legal counsel, and then as a witness for prosecutors during Watergate, one of the 20th century's most notorious scandals, told Arizona State University journalism students he wants future reporters not to forget the past.

“There’s a group of people out there who want to revise history and are making money off of the Watergate scandal,” Dean said. “History becomes bogus when you’re dealing with bad information.”

The historical context of Watergate came to life Thursday evening in Dean’s discussion, “Uncovering Watergate’s Legacy and Impact on Journalism,” which took place in the First Amendment Forum in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

Dean’s lecture explored his four decades of reflection on the scandal, the lessons he learned and how time has given him a much better perspective.

“I didn’t look at it (Watergate) in a historical context at the time,” Dean told an audience of about 125 people, comprised mostly of journalism students who were born a quarter-century after Watergate unfolded.

“I was in the fight of my life taking on the President of the United States. My colleagues wanted me to fall on the sword as per their orders, and I didn’t take well to that. I’m still living with that stigma, but it doesn’t trouble me because I told the truth.”

man giving lecture at podium

Reporting on a scandal


John Dean, regarded as the main whistleblower
in the Watergate scandal, told ASU journalism
students, that he doesn't live with regret
because he told the truth.

Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The scandal unfolded on June 17, 1972, with the arrest of five burglars dressed in business suits, sporting surgical gloves, their pockets stuffed with crisp $100 bills and carrying suitcases filled with wiretapping equipment. Their intent was to bug the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C. The five men were arrested and Nixon hastily constructed a cover-up.

Dean depicted the operatives as fumbling idiots and gave an even harsher assessment to the man who hired them, G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who served in several positions under Nixon.

“Liddy has often portrayed himself as a James Bond-type character,” Dean said. “He was not even in the Maxwell Smart category because he bungled so many operations.”

Dean also took time to praise the dogged efforts of The Washington Post in its relentless coverage of the case and cover-up, noting that it changed the face of modern-day journalism.

Dean served as counsel to Nixon from 1970-73. At the Senate Watergate Committee in June 1973, Dean implicated Nixon, administration officials and himself in the cover-up. During his testimony, he also mentioned the existence of Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List,” which included major political opponents of the president, labor organizations, media, academics, business people and celebrities.

“The White House was basically a cesspool,” Dean said of Nixon's tenure, noting his second term as especially vengeful.

He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and later testified during the trial of several of Nixon’s White House aides. Dean served four months in federal prison for his role in the cover-up.

Following his prison stint, Dean went on to become an investment banker, lecturer and author of 14 books, most recently “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.”

Dean said though the Watergate saga changed the face of journalism one of its negative impacts is its lasting “aura of cynicism” the press has toward standing presidents. He believes their attitudes have shifted from trusting to distrustful, and should move back toward the middle.

“Before Watergate there was too much leniency given to presidents,” Dean said. “Now there’s not enough benefit of the doubt to the let the president do what he needs to do.”

man speaking at podium
John Dean, former counsel for President Richard Nixon, shows a video of Nixon at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Oct. 15.


Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School, said the discussion was a teaching moment for students. 

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to hear from one of the key figures of Watergate, which was not just a watershed moment for American politics, but for journalism as well,” Callahan said.

For Megan Janetsky, a 19-year-old journalism student, the night was an opportunity to understand Watergate’s history first-hand.

“I knew a lot about the story and I love American history, so hearing an insider’s perspective and seeing the other side of the story and the extent in which Nixon went in order to cover this up was interesting,” Janetsky said.

Dean’s lecture was also of great interest to 18-year-old Mitchell Atencio, a freshman at the Cronkite School.

“Growing up, Nixon was painted as one of the most shady presidents in history and his famous line ‘I am not a crook’ meant the opposite was actually true. He was a crook, and so I grew up with this distaste for him. That started to shift a few years ago after I started to learn more about politics,” Atencio said. “I thought Mr. Dean did a good job of explaining Watergate to those who weren’t around for it and a lot of us might not know what actually happened.”

This won’t be the last students will hear from Dean, who has been appointed to ASU’s Barry Goldwater Chair of American Institutions for the fall and spring semesters.

The Goldwater Chair supports the appointment of scholars who have distinguished themselves in the fields of political science, history, economics, law or public policy. Dean will give several classroom and public lectures throughout the fall and teach courses in philosophy and law at ASU this spring.