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December 20, 2004
Hugh Hewitt, on Time magazine noting a "blog of the year":
This recognition is greatly deserved but also a little ironic --as if, in 1940, the radio networks got together to award a "television reporter of the year" award.
Geeesh, some people just can't show simple gratitude.
The fact that it's been a year since my response to Time's cover story reminds me that after another year with an increasing number of front-line blogs, emails home, and other real-time communication from GIs here we've seen little change from some sources in tone of coverage on the supposed "GI view" of the war. The fact that the media storyline hasn't changed is not surprising, the fact that so many are willing to believe it is unfortunate.
The fact that blogs have come a long way in that same 12 months shows that increasing numbers of people are not so inclined, and I remain hopeful for the year ahead.
So continue to put words in our mouths at your own risk, you priests of a crumbling temple. We've our own platform now, and we'll call you down from that lofty tower...
Here's OIF vet Jason Van Steenwyk responding to the Christian Science Monitor via letter.
Here's Michael at A Day in Iraq recounting stories of his previous assignment in Iraq and his ongoing preparations to return here. A quote: "I can't think of anywhere else I would rather spend over a year of my life."
Now I could name a couple, (but here's to better years!) but I recognize his sincerity, and I know exactly what he means. Others in DCUs do too.
Cori Dauber notes another case of the "demoralized military a la Vietnam" theme in the press.
Rick Atkinson, author of the subject piece, wrote the book "In the Company of Soldiers", one of least informative accounts I've ever read from an embed on the invasion of Iraq. Atkinson recounts a large share of the negative reporting throughout the actual march on Baghdad; we trained for the wrong foe, sand and dust will stop us, Baghdad will be a nightmare of door-to-door combat, etc. etc. Even after the fact in the book he couldn't really bring himself to rise above his pre-war conclusions that 1) the war was unjustified and all about oil and 2) the war was a series of U.S. failures culminating in the capture of Baghdad but so what?
Atkinson from Soldiers:
On Forward Area Refueling Points (FARPs):
With stupefying obtuseness, the military had named the FARPs for oil companies, despite Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's insistence that the invasion of a country with 112 billion barrels of confirmed reserves had "nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil".
On the motivation of U.S. Soldiers:
But most soldiers evinced a cool detachment toward their potential Iraqi adversaries. Certainly no hate lodged in their bones. Many had an inchoate conviction that this deployment was somehow linked to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, a delusion encouraged by the nation's political leadership. Long before 9/11, however, the Army had become an expeditionary force that careered among global hot spots. If they were modern legionnaires, these soldiers nevertheless thought of themselves as defenders of a secular faith embracing sundry liberties and entitlements, including many that were noble, and others - such as the daily consumption of more than 25 percent of the world's oil supply by only 5 percent of the world's population - that were less so.
On finding a warehouse complex full of boxes labeled 'Oil-for-Food':
As we poked about, I catalogued the emporium. Warehouse No. 4: fifty-kilo sacks of sugar from France and twenty thousand bags of black tea from India. Warehouse No. 10: cooking oil from Malaysia. Warehouse No. 19: detergent powder - the place smelled like a lemon grove - from Algeria and Syria. Warehouse No. 5 was my favorite: bed sheets, Phillips flat-screen televisions, men's underwear, throw rugs, light bulbs, candles, compressors, pencils, erasers, light switches, trash bags, and, not least, a carton of box cutters. Perhaps, I thought, we had found the elusive link to Al-Qaeda.
That final comment being particular ironic in light of the growing Oil for Food scandal.
His otherwise straightforward account is marred by political injections into what is actually a 90 percent non-political look at an army at war. But in the end - perhaps in fear of being labeled a "Bushie" - he can't resist spilling his personal views out onto the page. His opinions on the war are anything but inchoate; his attacks are like little IEDs shoehorned in at various spots throughout his prose, catching you when you're off guard.
Atkinson's previous effort, "An Army at Dawn", was a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of WWII battles in North Africa, a campaign marked by initial failures that nonetheless set the foundation for eventual victory. In "Soldiers" he actually recounts learning he'd been honored with the Pulitzer while in Iraq during the war. I haven't read that one, but I'd expect his problem is presenting real-time data vs. history, the latter being somewhat more malleable in the hands of someone unconcerned with accuracy, or a response from those who were there. Perhaps he expects that years from now his work on Iraq will be the definitive shaper of thoughts on this age?
Here's a quote from his latest article:
But as this war grinds on, as these dead stack up, soldiers and their families are faced with the appalling suspicion that their troops are risking their lives in a cause that is uncertain at best and illegitimate at worst.
The son of an Army officer, Atkinson is ever careful to wrap his nay saying in a thin armor of feeble praise for those in uniform. But guys like Michael or Red Six or 2Slick keep showing up on the horizon, and certain 'embeds' would do well to take note.
Even tanks get destroyed some times, don't you know.
Posted by Greyhawk / December 20, 2004 7:31 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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