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October 28, 2007
Change in the WeatherBy Greyhawk
October has been a fine month in Iraq. The heat of summer has gone and the rains and mud of November are still a ways away. Oddly enough, while that's good weather for combat there's been very little of it thus far. Hot spots have gone "warm", and warm spots have grown cold - I suppose it's that time of year...
Cheers erupt on the Left side of the Blogosphere*, as after months of no notice the Washington Post finds an Iraq story worthy of their front page. 'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life' - it's a quote from an actual sergeant on the ground in Iraq. And he's talking about one of the shittiest little corners of Baghdad.
Though like everywhere else in Iraq, before the invasion it was a place of butterflies and rainbows...
Before the war, Sadiyah was a bustling middle-class district, popular with Sunni officers in Saddam Hussein's military.But those halcyon days of sunshine ended forever the moment an elected government replaced Saddam's dictatorship.
Under a headline declaring it a "district torn by mounting sectarian violence" the WaPo reporter actually acknowledges that violence is down and decreasing, but that "...the soldiers' experience in Sadiyah shows that numbers alone do not describe the sense of aborted normalcy -- the fear, the disrupted lives -- that still hangs over the city."
Honestly, I'm not a fan of violence metrics either. But if the numbers were actually going up I'm not sure the WaPo reporter would have been quite so eloquently dismissive of their significance.
But after 14 months in hell there are good reasons for the troops to be tired, and bitter, and skeptical. Find any unit that's been here a while and you'll find guys who will give you great quotes to fit any headline you want - from page one to page 18. But this Brigade's been particularly rocked. At home they've been depicted as thugs and criminals (yes, this is Scott Beauchamp's Brigade) and in Iraq - when not investigating issues of alleged animal rights abuse - they're playing death match for keeps in a Mad Max neighborhood uniquely situated between Sunnis, Shiites, and hell.
It has become strategically important because it represents a fault line between militia power bases in al-Amil to the west and the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Dora to the east. U.S. commanders say the militias have made a strong push for the neighborhood in part because it lies along the main road that Shiite pilgrims travel to the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.Last year they had partnered with an Iraqi police unit known as "the Wolf Brigade", an effort that proved to be a failure - in fact, an unmitigated disaster.
"We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn't see it for what it was. In retrospect, I've got to think it was a coordinated effort," Timmerman said. "To this day, I don't think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are" with the militias.Really, you can follow the link to see just how big that failure was. It can't be overstated. But then came the change in strategy commonly called "the surge". And now,
In September, after Glaze led an eight-month campaign to kick out the Wolf Brigade, soldiers from the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, which has clashed with Sunni volunteers in the Abu Ghraib area, arrived in Sadiyah.And late in the summer, another element of that strategy was added - building on the success experienced by other units elsewhere in country in spite of opposition from elements in the national government:
Over the past two months, the U.S. soldiers have recruited more than 300 local residents, most of them Sunnis, into a neighborhood defense force.And that "bottom up" approach is proving successful everywhere, including one of the darkest corners of Baghdad:
The Iraqi army's arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.In fact, that could have been the focus of the piece, and a different quote could have been used for the headline.
But then it wouldn't have been on page one, would it?
The narrative on Iraq - the one you see in the media, that is - is changing. Claims that "we've lost" and that American soldiers have been beaten by opponents who are righteous heroes or nine-foot tall and bullet proof are being quite subtly shifted to arguments that no potential victory (if even grudgingly acknowledged) could be worth the price. This argument may prove irresistible to those who've invested heavily in defeat.
But the men profiled in this brief and focused story will soon head home (ironically, to Germany - where we've been for over 60 years now) and others will take their place here in Iraq. The war will continue to wind down. That next unit will write the story of what Sadiyah becomes, but only these few men of the Big Red One will own the story of what it took to make it so.
*Cheers: they've scored amazing debate points against imaginary opponents who claim that Iraq is now a land of butterflies and rainbows.
Next: de rigeur
Posted by Greyhawk / October 28, 2007 3:03 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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