2022 Philosophy Symposium: The Military Experience & Culture

Our philosophy symposium on the military experience & culture was part of our 2022 philosophy symposia series supported in part by grants from Humanities Montana, The National Endowment for the Humanities,  and The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization, as well as community sponsorships and partnerships with BWP Helena Great Northern Hotel, Helena Civic Television, and Raven’s Feather Productions.

In this symposium led by guest speaker (Retired) Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Barrs, we explored perspectives on military life & culture for active duty members and veterans, as well as family members and loved ones (who are also “on duty” in an important sense). 

In the first part of our discussion, we looked at the military experience as a special kind of community, rules/expectations of military living, and ways of engaging in the world (which may or may not be unique to military culture). 

In the second part, we looked at post-military experiences & challenges including integrating into civilian life, identity, meaning-making, altered expectations of self & society, and moral injury

Our symposium took place at The Helena Avenue Theater, in conjunction with a live theater performance called “Grounded” starring local actress Katy Wright.  The symposium offered space for community members to explore, discuss, and think critically together about some of the deeply human and philosophical questions the play inspired.  (Community members did not have hav to see the play in order to participate or benefit from the discussion.)

Symposium Video


    • Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian, edited by Donald H. Whitfield. Great Books Foundation, 2013. ISBN: 978-1939014535.

    • Grossman, David. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Open Road Media, 2014.

    • Shay, Jonathan. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character.  New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

    • Shay, Jonathan.  Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.  New York, NY: Scribner, 2002.

    • Junger, Sebastian. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. New York, NY: Twelve, 2016.

    • Klay, Phil. Redeployment. Penguin, 2015.

    • Finkel, David.  The Good Soldiers. New York, NY: Sarah Crichton Books, 2009.

    • Sherman, Nancy. Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    • The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) | Military.com

    • Army Values | USArmyBasic

Our Symposium Speaker

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Elizabeth Barrs

Retired Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Army, Instructor of Veteran’s Studies at Missoula College, and Humanities MT Speaker

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Elizabeth Barrs was commissioned as a Military Intelligence Officer in 1987 through Army ROTC at Loyola University of Chicago. In her nearly 21-year active-duty career, she served in command and staff positions ranging from platoon leader and company commander to the senior intelligence officer in infantry and armored divisions. She served in combat in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She deployed in support of humanitarian operations after Hurricane Andrew and peace operations for Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. She was also a Senior Duty Officer on the National Security Council staff in the White House Situation Room.


LTC Barrs retired from active duty in October 2008. Since August 2013 she helped develop the Veterans Studies curriculum at Eastern Kentucky University and more recently at the University of Montana. She is currently a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Montana. Elizabeth Barrs is from the Big Island of Hawaii and lives in Missoula, Montana.


Thank You’s

Thank you to our our guest speaker Elizabeth Barrs, our symposia series grantors Humanities Montana, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and The Philosophy Learning & Teaching Organization, to our community sponsors BWP Helena Great Northern Hotel (for our guest lodging) and  Helena Civic Television (for filming and broadcasting the discussion), to our community partner Raven’s Feather Productions (for teaming up with us and helping us bring this symposium to life), to our volunteers (Mike McGuire & Kellie Myers), and to the Helena community (for helping to make this such a thought-provoking discussion!).

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