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June 19, 2011
Fathers' DayBy Greyhawk
(A post I wrote while in Iraq in '07, during what would turn out to be the worst months of that war...)
Just finished reading Virtual Light, an early 90's sci-fi book by William Gibson. Gibson is credited with creating the "cyberpunk" sub-genre; I'd read his Neuromancer trilogy some time ago and enjoyed it.
Virtual Light is the first book of another trilogy, but I don't know if I'll bother with the rest. It's not bad, but the setting is the "near future" - and that future is now, or close enough to now that it becomes obvious that the future was not quite so bleak as full enjoyment of the story would require.
That of itself provides interest - but of a sort that wasn't the author's intent. I suppose there could be another sub-genre of science fiction: the bleak future that didn't happen. Watch almost any pre-Star Wars sci-fi films of the 70's - Silent Running, Soylent Green, Logan's Run, et al - and you'll see examples what I mean.
Of course, one can't consign such stories into that category ahead of time, right?
And anyhow, perhaps the authors were just off by a few years in timing. We still have a future in which any number of things can happen.
For instance, did you know the Earth was getting hotter?
In 1967, Gibson went to Canada "to avoid the Vietnam war draft", appearing that year in a CBC newsreel item about hippie subculture in Yorkville, Toronto. He settled in Vancouver, British Columbia five years later and began to write science fiction. Although he retains U.S. citizenship, Gibson has spent most of his adult life in Canada, and still lives in the Vancouver area.
This reduces my enjoyment of his work not one bit. I read Virtual Light by flashlight over several nights, just before dropping off to sleep here in my tent in Iraq.
I don't get enough sleep, though. Mostly that's due to long hours. But some days aren't so busy. One Sunday I almost went to bed early - it was Father's Day, in fact. I'd already read and replied to the emails from the kids who really aren't kids any more, and was about to log off and call it a day.
Then into my inbox popped a message from my brother in the states: I'd been invited to view an online album of photos from our niece's wedding.
The event had been planned for a year, at least, and even when I first heard of it I knew I couldn't go - knew I'd be in Iraq on that day.
Our family scattered around the country, my parents' generation and my own. None are left in my hometown, and that wasn't my parents' hometown anyway. Since the third generation is now starting out on their own, we'll see if the trend continues.
"Where are you from?" I'm asked from time to time. If you're looking for a place that defines me, the answer is "I'm not sure."
But from time to time the family gathers, and this time the gathering wasn't far from the fictional setting of Virtual Light. Sometimes I'm there, this time I wasn't. But here was my chance to be there in a virtual sense, after the fact.
Who'd have thought such things were possible, just a few short years ago?
So I clicked the link in the email, and waited while 200+ thumbnails made their agonizingly slow appearance on my screen... Who are these old guys hanging out with the beautiful girls I've known for years? And who are these young adults who look so much like the kids who used to visit Grandma's? ... I'd have to click through for the full version for answers. Those loaded slowly, too.
So much for sleep. I wouldn't miss this for the world.
I think I've already mentioned a memorial at headquarters. I saw a new face among the collection of photographs of the fallen the last time I passed by, as I do every time. This time, "... killed by indirect fire".
"Indirect fire" means rockets or mortars, launched in the general direction of camp. Most land in the middle of nothing, others don't. Here was one that didn't.
I did not know this person, who was on a base other than mine. But like all the faces, hers looked familiar. Like family.
The first picture I saw from the virtual wedding album was one of family at a table. My older brother, the father of the bride, was not among them. But on a shelf in the background, I saw his picture. A picture in a picture, small, visible only upon clicking the thumbnail for the larger image, and waiting and waiting for the pixels to make their way from California through the lens of a digital camera then through cyberspace to me in Iraq. Though his photograph in the background was small it was recognizable to me because it was a college yearbook photo, a copy of which hung proudly on a wall in my parents' home in my hometown, when it was there.
He was in college through the last few years of the Vietnam war. I can remember my being concerned he could be drafted. That was a possible future, but it didn't happen. Instead he graduated, got married, and got a job doing something with computers out in some place people started calling Silicon Valley...
Years later and years ago, I visited him at his home in California. I was returning from two years in Korea, on my way to an assignment near my hometown where one member of my family still lived. Our younger brother, who was getting married a few months later, to a girl who looked the same when I saw her in photos on Fathers' Day this year.
A couple years later the three of us got together in California. Good times.
On one of those visits out West he gave me some paperback books he'd finished reading. Among them, Virtual Light, by William Gibson. I can't recall if he'd given me his opinion of it - probably not.
But years later and a few months ago I was packing to come to Iraq, and grabbed a couple of books off my shelf for the trip. That was one of them.
And a couple months later and a couple weeks ago I clicked through pictures from my older brother's daughter's wedding, sent to me by my younger brother via cyberspace.
No matter how many works of science fiction prove faulty at predicting a disastrous future, people will eagerly consume the next pronouncement of doom. There's a market for such things. There are people who thrive on imagining a future hell.
In the 70's it was nuclear war, overpopulation, pollution, and numerous other threats to all mankind that distracted our attention from that which was truly important. By the early 90's it was the economy, stupid, that was going to bring us down.
Sacrifice: some of us miss family weddings and other big events, others die from indirect fire.
Others get to leave early:
Him: You've been stationed in Germany, right?
He was worried about his future, he knew I'd been in Germany, and he needed my advice: "So, what's there to do over there?"
He's heading your way, MaryAnn. I told him to say hello for me.
So, on my last trip out to California - unbelievable to me now it's been over ten years - I had a conversation with my older brother and his then teen-age daughter.
"She wants to ask you something". He said.
She was quite solemn, and quite serious.
"When the time comes and I get married, if Dad can't do it, would you walk me down the aisle?"
She wasn't just worrying needlessly about the future. Her father had cancer, and though he preferred to say he was "living with cancer", he was also dying from it.
Such things matter. Such things are non-trivial, and not to be taken lightly. I am the father of two daughters myself, and I know.
I told her I'd be honored.
He died on Christmas Eve, 1996, and left a wife and two daughters. From her wedding pictures I saw in Iraq on Father's Day, 2007, the wedding held on the weekend that included his birthday, they are all quite beautiful, and he would be proud.
May you sleep well tonight, wherever you are. Elsewhere rough men ride, and tomorrow will be a fine day indeed.
Posted by Greyhawk / June 19, 2011 10:10 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...)
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.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com