Posted on behalf of Ken LaZebnik.
My son is a cadet at West Point. I can assure you he is the only student there who is the child of a screenwriter and an actress. This odd bit of personal history informs the origins of the “Borders of Faith” symposium, which opens today with a keynote address by Ambassador Tony P. Hall. (4 pm, Stauffer Chapel. Don’t miss it.)
When Jack entered the United States Military Academy almost three years ago, the first thing my wife and I noted was that we knew nothing about the military. Both of our fathers had served in World War II, but neither of us had any direct experience with the Army (or Navy, or Air Force or Marines). With the advent of an all-volunteer Army, the gap between the armed forces and the civilian world of America is vast.
I quickly learned that the stereotypes I carried with me – reductions oddly enough planted in my mind by my own industry – were far from true. I assumed that when I met a soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, I would encounter some form of dysfunction: A man or woman who was troubled, broken in either mind or body. The officers I encountered were just the opposite. They were positive, they were energetic, they were humorous. A sense of humor has always seemed the best thermometer of sanity, and these men and women were grounded, sane, sharply observant, and funny.
I became passionate about telling their story. When I started working at Pepperdine over a year ago, I was quickly impressed with this school’s commitment to exploring issues of faith in a deep and profound way. And I had the realization that the issue of how faith impacts American policies in the Middle and Near East is rarely explored. I felt multiple gaps in information and understanding: The gap between the civilian world and the military world; and the gap between understanding America’s foreign policy and grasping how our shared faiths impact it.
“Borders of Faith” became an attempt to close those gaps, if even in a small way. I found wonderful partners in The Glazer Institute and The Nootbaar Institute. The Provost’s Office offered extraordinary support. And, of course, the leadership of Pepperdine University’s Libraries – Dean Mark Roosa – was extraordinary.
And so now, a year in the making, we finally begin. We are honored to have Ambassador Tony P. Hall open the symposium with a keynote address. Within two years, it is completely possible my son will find himself in Afghanistan – or elsewhere in the world as an American confronting a culture grounded in a faith different than his own – and my hope is that this symposium can shed some light on how we can bridge understanding to create peace. Which, in the same counterintuitive way that produced a soldier from a writer and an actress, is what I know soldiers across the world yearn for.
Director of Public Affairs
Pepperdine University Libraries