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July 20, 2011
My war's bigger than your warBy Greyhawk
By 2008 (the last year available) - at least in books in Google's database (and they claim 10% of all of 'em ever are) - Iraq was cited more often than Vietnam was in any year through the late-60s/early 70s height of that campaign. Obviously I ran the searches without the word "war" appended to the country names, but equally obviously war brings a nation more to the forefront of American culture. But was Iraq in 2008 really more important (or profitable - or perceived as either in the publishing industry) than Vietnam was four decades before?
It's worth noting that this tells us nothing of how many books were written about those wars, merely how frequently the country's name appeared in books (relative to all other words) regardless of topic. (That said, "Viet Nam" is compared to all other two-word pairings, thus isn't a perfect fit in this chart.)
It's also worth noting that 2008 was an American presidential election year (though 1968 and 1972 were also), so the percentage of politically-themed books was undoubtedly higher than in off-years. I suspect that most books that mentioned Iraq that year were more broadly focused on American politics in general than war.
And whatever number of books were published about Iraq in 2008, they weren't about current events there - although several had found their way to bookstores in the immediate aftermath of the previous year's surge. Most were a premature effort to "put the whole thing in its proper perspective" - perhaps perceived (at least when the publishing deals were made months before) as an urgent mission given those impending American elections.
For current events one would turn to television, where (conversely) one would find Iraq had vanished from the screen in 2008.
Finally, a didja notice: Afghanistan references almost never exceeded Iraq, though they were close in the 1980s. If asked I would have guessed Afghanistan would have had a bit more press in that decade, apparently I'd have guessed wrong.
I wonder what 2009-2012 results will look like?
And more perspective, this chart narrowed to the years 2000-2008 (click for Ngram Viewer original):
Begging the question: how well do books reflect American culture?
Posted by Greyhawk / July 20, 2011 12:44 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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