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April 8, 2006
Chaos TheoryBy Greyhawk
I hold Jonathan Finer's reporting from Iraq in high regard, but this story:
Shiite Muslim militias pose the greatest threat to security in many parts of Iraq, having killed more people in recent months than the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, and will likely present the most daunting and critical challenge for Iraq's new government, U.S. military and diplomatic officials say....might be an example of bad timing, in light of this one from the NY Times:
Of course, exactly whodunnit will be a matter of speculation, accusations, and counter accusations, and those who want any sort of reasonable coverage of events (or at least in-text acknowledgement of factual and speculative elements in a story) will find the Times is not a generally reliable source. I have no idea whether this one contains such failures - and that's exactly the problem.
Periodic media "coverage flux" occurs from Iraq - "we are the targets of an insurgency" becomes "we are caught in a civil war", "the Sunni insurgency is the problem" becomes "the Shiite militias are the problem" (oddly enough in the wake of an attack on a Shiite shrine). Ultimately the media will arrive at a unified theory - and stick with it until they can no longer hammer every development into it's shape. I propose "chaos" as that theory - everything fits that one.
There's a 'race to the finish' ongoing in Iraq, between coalition forces who want to hand security to fully trained and capable Iraqi forces under a stable elected government and an "insurgency" that desires all out war. (If their goal was US withdrawal they'd find it mutually acceptable and easily achieved - let's not pretend that's their desire.) With universal human frailties working in favor of the enemy*, the coalition (to include it's Iraqi component - the largest member) is in many ways an underdog in that particular struggle.
The odd thing is an all out war could be won by the "infidels" (who thus far have successfully avoided it) in short order, even if it engulfed a broader region. In addition to unleashing airpower not seen since the last century this would involve finally deploying the half million shooters (or more) that so many have claimed would have prevented any problems in the first place. (That treasured bit of speculative hindsight is true, by the way, if one assumes the enemy would have responded in exactly the same manner to those hypothetical conditions that they did to the reality. Chaos theory says that wouldn't be the case.)
But in the background, signs of hope:
That cause is the aforementioned broader war, the long established al Qaeda jihad.
Chaos, of course, is exactly the goal of that jihad. A more refined "unified theory" for all the above stories requires acknowledgment that the forces of jihad have a considerable degree of both savagery and savvy - both claims can be defended. Each event described above must be acknowledged as a attempt at focused acts by a small group designed to maximize coverage and elicit a response in kind (savage) from the opposition. From IED attacks on Marine patrols to demolition of sacred shrines, the enemy achieves much with small numbers, and expects to successfully portray themselves as victims of that response. (And when no such response occurs, they claim it did anyway.) A media that fears accusations of bias above any other charge (and relies heavily on 'sources' from within that enemy camp) invariably lives up to those expectations. This breeds more 'success'; at a minimum, supporters of the coalition find their enthusiasm diminished, while others are converted to the terrorist cause.
And the cycle continues...
If all this causes you great despair, you are probably a human being. And Orwell knew your grandparents:
The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it, and if one finds the prospect of a long war intolerable, it is natural to disbelieve in the possibility of victory.
Note: * "With universal human frailties working in favor of the enemy..." "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy his own heart?" -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
One can acknowledge this without surrendering to that evil.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 8, 2006 10:43 AM | 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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