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April 15, 2005
We Are the WarBy Greyhawk
Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman returns to Mudville with the sixth installment of his series Warrior to Warrior, letters from a Vietnam veteran to our soldiers in Iraq. See the intro to the series here).
IS IRAQ ANOTHER VIETNAM?
Dear Warrior . . .
I spoke to one of your mothers before our send-off ceremony here in our small town for the Montana soldiers going to Iraq. She said her son wanted to know, "What's the big deal about going to Iraq? It's just our job."
I'd guess most of you would have the same reaction to Vietnam: What's the big deal? It's ancient history.
It's more than a word, more than history. It's a word like Woodstock to your parents' generation. Or 9/11 in your own time. (Okay, so 9/11 is a number, but you get the point.) Vietnam is more. It's an emotion, a symbol of something deeply felt, a combat internal just beneath the skin of America.
Ask two questions of anybody who lived Vietnam, civilian protestor or military vet. First ask whether we won or lost World War II. What you'll get is a laugh. And something like this: Of course we won, you idiot. Don't you read your history?
Okay, so WWII truly is history.
Then ask if we won or lost in Vietnam. What you'll see is heat. What you'll hear is invective. That's not history. That's emotion. The emotion of politics, Tonkin, dissent, betrayal, parades or no parades, shame, spit-a host of images. All of them edgy.
So we come gingerly to the question: Is Iraq another Vietnam?
Let's set aside the politics and emotion and come at it from a soldier's point of view.
I wrote these letters and the book they will eventually compose because I felt a spike in the emotional temperature of America after we won the conventional war in Iraq. Right away the military was asked to win the peace. You are being asked to Iraqi-ize the country in much the same way, and using just as awkward a term, soldiers were to Vietnamize that war, that is removing a military threat and turning their country over to the people.
All at once, all the same arguments about our soldiers as anti-insurgent forces bubbled up. We heard words like quagmire, unwinnable and, of course, Vietnam.
We veterans of Vietnam know a thing or two about that word and those feelings. Even if we fall on opposite sides of the political fence.
What we know, we can share with you. Think of it as a kind of survival guide like Rogers' Rangers standing orders from the pre-Revolution era. Maj. Robert Rogers wrote 19 instructions. Simple, straight, sensible things, like no. 1: Don't forget nothing. And no. 14: Don't sit down to eat without posting sentries. If you can't find the standing orders in your army literature, you can Google them in an instant.
You'll find a single theme running through all 19 of them: Never let down your guard.
It's the theme that runs through the head of every combat veteran, especially as the shooting war peters out. In even the most vigorous training test, you can always close your eyes and shut down your mind with the thought: This is only a test; it's only a test; I need the sleep so I can pass the test.
In the war zone, every time you want to shut your eyes, repeat a different mantra: This is not a test, not a test; If I slack off now, I may never wake up.
A lot of men died in earlier wars just because they slacked off. Don't.
Till next week . . .
God bless you and Godspeed.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 15, 2005 6:40 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...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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