Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
July 28, 2011
Through a Glass, DarklyBy Greyhawk
"T hrough the travail of the ages,
So as through a glass, and darkly
So forever in the future,
- George S Patton
Along the wall in my house given over to bookshelves there's one filled with Tom Clancy's novels. From the time I'd finished Red Storm Rising while on a deployment to Egypt in 1987 to the early years of this millennium I acquired and read them all. I'm not even sure if Clancy has written anything in the last decade, his works became too much for me to read. That's got nothing to do with quality and is due only in part to the length of book/time available ratio. The simple truth is that while I can assure you the late-cold war military - those people and organizations that Clancy described so well - once existed as such, the concurrent fact that I have to use past tense in that assurance is reason enough for me to move on. I witnessed the vanishing of that first-hand, and wish that so much of the competency of that era hadn't slipped away, too. While I enjoy history and believe it to be critical to understanding the present and the future, and I'm as vulnerable as anyone to moments of nostalgia (I do still have all those books, after all), I reject the desirability of living in the past.
Where to now, then? The shelf above Clancy's contains other techno-thrillers, military themed adventures, and spy novels from Alistair MacLean, John le Carré, Ian Flemming and others. Fine books, but few with pages I'd still call white. On up - the next shelf above contains one work: an eight-volume edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, flanked by souvenirs of a trip to Italy; on one side a small replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on the other the Coliseum. None of these things were purchased with that arrangement in mind, it all came together just so during the latest shuffling of the shelves a few months ago.
Above that shelf is one of non-fiction works on America's recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including those written by my fellow milbloggers. But we're talking fiction here (I think) and we've definitely departed that realm. So bring the gaze back downward, past Gibbon, and to the center of that row of books just below.
There's the Steven Pressfield section, books with crisp pages and covers that still shine. Oddly enough, my most recent additions to this particular shelf deal with the most ancient of epic adventures. Or at least on the surface they do. From Gates of Fire to The Afghan Campaign, his fictional accounts of ancient warriors and their battles connect the books above them on my shelves to those on either side and below. In looking at that arrangement now, I'm certain I never thought of it in just that way when placing them all where they are. My decision was simply these books go here, and these belong here, and this one here... and I spent less time thinking that through than you just spent reading it.
Whether conscious or not, the connection was in my mind. Now that I've finished Pressfield's latest work, The Profession, and added it to that mix, I realize it was in his, too. If he stops writing of warriors now (and I hope he doesn't) he still will have achieved something that's only vaguely illustrated in one small section of bookshelves in my little house: he's completed a circle. There's something mystic in that, as there's an element of the mystic in The Profession, too.
That opening line from the book evokes the moment in the movie Patton when the legendary General stands on an ancient battlefield, quoting verses from his "Through a Glass, Darkly" poem to Bradley. I even imagined I heard that distant echoing bugle call from the movie's score as I read it.
But Patton isn't the only modern military leader that comes to mind while reading of Pressfield's fictional General James Salter. MacArthur is the more likely comparison. If you've a bit of knowledge of the classics, however, you'll add Caesar, Alexander, Xenophon, Alcibiades, and a host of other obvious and not-so obvious archetypes to the mix. "Gentlemen," one character encourages his comrades on page eleven, "as Sarpedon said to Glaucus, 'Let us go forth and win glory - or cede it to others.'" This book might be set in the near-future, but it is Steven Pressfield after all.
But let's veer out of those depths a moment, and to another level of the book. Call it the shallows. I don't use that term derisively. If your knowledge of war and warriors is limited to Patton the movie (a good one), or if you've never wondered "What if a re-born Caesar had commanded a modern incarnation of Xenophon's Ten Thousand..." (I never had - until I read this book) you'll still find much here to enjoy. Whereas depth is an aspect of fiction embraced by so many critics and literature professors - and eagerly sought by the readers they influence - I believe the shallows are the level no work of fiction works without. And The Profession works as a beach read, too - something to take along on the vacation. A page-turner, a ripping good adventure yarn, one I consumed in a few disconnected half-hours in exactly that vacation environment, without having to flip backwards through pages past to remind myself of some character or plot detail.
I've already mentioned Alistair MacLean. If you've never heard of him don't worry - he'd faded away before Clancy's day. I read his books so long ago I can recall only vague details of his plots and nothing of his style. Likewise I haven't seen the movies made from them in years, but recall The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and a handful of others as some of the best examples of the genre from back in the day. While rapidly moving the pages of The Profession from my right hand to my left, the thought occurred to me more than once that as far as vision matters, here's a modern movie mostly made. It's a summer blockbuster waiting to happen, maybe even one that will lead others to pick up a copy of the book.
And in the pages of The Profession some might discover the depths I've alluded to above. They're subtle, between the lines - author-inspired but reader-supplied. Pressfield offers much to think about, much to discuss, but he does it without preaching, without telling you what to think. Who you'll cheer for probably depends on what you think of America today - or the direction you perceive our Republic headed. Pressfield's America of 2032 might be a nation worth defending, but beyond the ever-rising price of a gallon of gas, whatever sort of place it is isn't described in much detail in this book - and I don't think that's author laziness or oversight. The idea that perhaps you should spend some time thinking about the events in this story, set in a near future rather than an ancient past, should not be dismissed. If Clancy's warriors have mostly vanished from the military of today, that doesn't mean they aren't somewhere to be found, and the members of Pressfield's Force Insertion seemed very familiar to me.
"Will he be able to navigate those waters?" Pressfield's hero asks the reader regarding Salter's plan to cross a modern Rubicon. "No one ever has."
Indeed, that's a lesson history teaches us. No writer has ever accurately predicted much of the near-future in a thriller, either, but I can describe this one in one chilling word:
So The Profession has found a place waiting for it on my shelves, just under that replica of a ruined coliseum.
Posted by Greyhawk / July 28, 2011 2:00 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.
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