Daily Archives: July 18, 2004

Blogs From Iraq

While surfing this week, I stumbled across a remarkable new blog called MY WAR–Fear and Loathing in Iraq. Written by a combat infantryman currently serving in Mosul who goes by the tag ‘CBFTW’, the writing is so strong that I added it to LitBlogs‘ ‘Journals’ list. You can read the review there; the post title is a link to My War. I urge you to check it out. It is a first-hand, real-time glimpse at the war from ground-level, and one of the best war diaries I’ve ever read. You’ll be sorry if you miss this one.

I began my review by saying, ‘This is, as far as I know, one of a kind. Not only is it a blog written by a soldier now serving in Iraq, it’s written by a soldier who can write.’ A commenter, Kayz, wrote in to tell me of others written by soldiers currently serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and left a link to a page devoted to such blogs, Bloggers 4 Freedom. There are 8 or 10 by soldiers, and an equal number by Iraqi citizens. I just spent the afternoon reading through most of the soldier-blogs, and while the first part of that sentence is certainly wrong, the second is not: whatever other virtues these blogs may have, good writing is generally not one of them. A couple of them are hard slogs to get through–dense with adjectives tripping over each other, light on actual information–a couple are readable, and I think at least one of them is a fake.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to give you a thumbnail description of each of them, soldier and civilian, at least enough to know if you might want to check them out. I’m going to do three of them today, and I’ll start with the one I think may be a phony.

# Not phony in the sense that he’s not a soldier or not in Iraq; a phony in the sense that Sgt Christopher Missick’s blog, A Line in the Sand, reads like the last piece I saw written by a PR hack: it’s superficial, full of cliches that he uses like slogans and taglines for ad copy, and he hits all the right talking points with the kind of turgid hyped-up prose you’d expect.

The first time this form of “culture shock” surfaces for members of the national guard and reserves, it is a shared experience with those who will be entering active duty. Basic Training is more than a period of physical conditioning, it is a rite of passage into a new life structured by discipline and guided by values. The 9 weeks of basic training is continued as soldiers enter AIT, Advanced Individual Training, and receive class room and hands on training in their MOS, or Military Operational Specialty. After these months of joint training and rigorous preparation to become a member of America’s fighting forces, the experiences of Reserve/Guard soldiers and Active Duty soldiers becomes starkly different. Reservists return to their civilian careers and colleges, and active duty soldiers continue in their military careers, living their lives day in and day out as soldiers.In theater however, we all must meet the expectations of being soldier’s on active duty, and as the nature of this war has placed 40% of the force in theater in the hands of America’s guard and reserve forces, the expectations of our performance are high.

It’s all like that, like somebody auditioning to write recruiting pamphlets. Which is what I suspect Sgt Missick really is: a PR flack for the military, one of whose assignments–or brainstorms–is this blog.

To begin with, his page is entirely without the usual disclaimer the military demands for material written outside its authorization by its members, a disclaimer presented prominently on every other one of these blogs I looked at, in one form or another.

This website is privately operated and is designed to provide personal information, views and commentary about the authors experiences in Iraq. The images depicted and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the author and contributors and not those of any agency of the United States Government, expressly including, but not limited to, the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Army Reserve. The site is not designed, authorized, sanctioned, or affiliated, by or with, any agency of the United States Government, expressly including, but not limited to, the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Army Reserve. Users accept and agree to this disclaimer in the use of any information accessed in this website.

That’s on the My War sidebar and it’s clearly straight out of the manual. That it is absent from A Line in the Sand is virtual proof that Missick’s site is ‘authorized, sanctioned or affiliated’ by or with the US military.

Second, for a serving soldier, this guy seems to have a lot of time on his hands. His site is complicated, with tabs leading to separate pages devoted to essays, pictures, letters, even videos and a ‘Guestbook’–which asks for an email address, no doubt; his entries are longer by far than any of the other blogs; his header features a cloudy picture of a soldier who looks a lot like Oliver North; and finally, his description says he’s with a ‘Signal battalion’, that curious Army catch-all that includes everything from message-relay to and from the battlefield, to PR and organizing entertainments.

None of that means that his blog is useless; it just means that what it says should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I did, however, come across a passage that suggests that either a) Sgt Missick is starting to question the Iraq mission, or b) that the Army has decided to acknowledge the doubts that have arisen due to the vast gulf between neocon promises of an easy war and the reality of a growing insurgency.

Andrew J. Bacevich’s article in the American Conservative entitled “A Time for Reckoning,” similarly evokes the need for us to learn from our mistakes in Iraq, the same way we were forced to learn from our mistakes in Vietnam. Mr. Bacevich does lay a convincing argument of several aspects to the war in Iraq that went wrong, with the most predominant failure being the expectation of ideology to carry the strategy. Expectations were high in Iraq, and the concerns expressed and articulated by Colin Powell often took back seat to those who believed a free Iraq would fully embrace its newfound freedom and consequently the American forces that provided it. Ironically, recent weeks have displayed that foreign terrorists have done more to further the case of America’s efforts in the minds of the Iraqi people, than a year of Paul Bremer’s occupational government.

Still in my early twenties, part of my idealism has been shaken from time to time, and as a soldier in theater, I am able to witness aspects of this war firsthand that are shaping new opinions and beliefs.

But it’s a token gesture. He soon retuns to a flat-out defense.

I for one am in no rush to begin another war, but that does not mean the cause for pre-emptive war is dead, that the MCA is no longer applicable, or that I no longer support the roadmap the president set forth. Rather, as the sole super power in the world, we must learn from our mistakes and victories in Iraq, and move forward with a policy of defeating terrorism and securing American safety at home and abroad. You may take a few hours out of the day to be entertained by films like Fahrenheit 9/11, but we can not afford as a nation to take time away from our vigilance in extinguishing the threats among us that seek to end the world as we know it.

He even manages to get in the regulation swipe at Michael Moore’s film. The major strength of this blog is its strong defense of the status-quo. I don’t know that you’ll read anything you haven’t read before, but he at least puts the case with genuine conviction. Its major weakness is that it almost entirely lacks any real news or information that CNN didn’t have weeks ago. It’s a straight-up polemic, but if you read as many lefty blogs as I do, there’s a value in getting an opposing viewpoint that comes from conviction rather than hatred or contempt. Missick makes it clear where his sympathies lie, but he is never mean or threatening or uncivil. Whether that was his choice or the Army’s, it’s a refreshing change from the hate-filled profanities of the freepers. You come away thinking it might actually be possible to have a civilized discussion with this guy, whether you ended up agreeing or not, and that’s a rarity among war-bloggers.

# Iraq calling lacks breaking news, too, but for an entirely different reason: nothing much is happening where he is–or so he says.

Just finished reading a well written and interesting blog from one of the guys in the Stryker brigade up in Mosul. He’s riding around in an armored vehicle on missions every day doing infantry stuff. Made me feel like I’m doing very little in comparison. Same stuff every day here, it lacks the excitement and adrenaline of combat patrols. Its also less tangible, except when I occasionally work as a medic.

He goes by the letter (not even a handle) ‘J’, and won’t say who he is, what he does, or where he is ‘for security reasons’. He does admit that he’s some sort of medic and that he’s stationed at one of the new bases we’re building, and reading between the lines, it’s probably in the south.

Iraq calling is full of day-to-day events and his opinion of them, much more like the kind of standard war diaries we’re used to. His sense of humor is a nice leavening agent, as well.

We’ve got some Strykers here too. During April, when all the convoys were getting hit they started accompanying the trucks. The PMO (Provost Marshall) – the sheriff on post had to get the guys to slow down while driving around base. They were tearing around the perimeter road and caused some accidents with other vehicles. The tanks sometimes have similar problems of not playing well with others. A few days ago one of the tanks broke down when out on patrol. The recovery vehicle went out and picked it up. On the way back somehow the towbar came undone. The loose tank rolled right over some poor guys car – a small opel. We will send the reimbursement team out and make restitution. Someone joked at one of my meetings that the army just bought a “new, mint condition 1989 Opel with a very rare Elvis music collection”. Commenting on the fact that we will pay significantly more than the car was worth partly based on exagerations from the owner. Hey, he didn’t ask for a car pancake!

A description of the ‘Union Meeting’ held by the Bangladeshis who work in the chow hall before they’re allowed to eat will be followed by thoughts on TCNs (Third Country Nationals, as the military calls soldiers from the coalition).

I’m not sure what the effect of the Philippine withdrawl of troops will be on the Filipino workers here on base. We have well over 1000 of them. A few weeks ago a mortar round landed right in the middle of a cookout some of the guys were having. I think 15 or so were wounded, several very seriously. A few were evacuated to Germany for medical treatment.Politically, the withdrawal is another victory for the terrorists following that of Spain. The terrorist are drawing extremely dangerous conclusions. The threat to the US this summer and fall is very real. I think a terrorist attack for the purpose of throwing the election would backfire. Bush would be sure to win. Of course removing the current administration is just one of many goals. America is an ideological and moral enemy and any pain inflicted is seen as a plus. If they are thinking strategically they will not attack before the election to give voters a chance to kick out President Bush. I fear that they think Spain and US are more similar than they actually are.

The strength of this blog is its everyday voice. It isn’t hard to read, unlike some of the others, and while he occasionally sabotages himself when he tries to ‘Write’, for the most part it’s a straighforward account of what J sees, thinks, and feels. It reads honest and sincere, a good combination, and the details are sometimes telling, sometimes funny, and almost always interesting.

I’m running out of time and probably trying your patience, so for the third I’ll pick the most promising of all because it’s also, at this point, the shortest.

# Hard Deck is new, and I mean brand new: last Tuesday. There’s only one post up, so what in the world would make me think this is the most promising? Three things:

1) It’s going to be written by an Army scout helicopter pilot.
2) He promises pictures.
3) While it’s really nuts to reach conclusions based on a single post, I have a feeling, OK? I think he writes well. The first post is short but concise, relaxed, and anything but timid.

Being a fan of blogs for some time, I wanted to run one while I was here in Iraq. Finally, 7 months later, I’m doing it. My primary goal with this weblog is to share stories, insights, and views from my experiences as a OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot here in Iraq. I’ll be posting pics, links, and stories somewhat regularly once I get this whole weblog business figured out. Right now, this blog is primarily for friends and family to follow along with the highs and lows of my year ‘in the sandbox’, but I certainly welcome any visitors who feel like dropping by. More to follow soon!

OK, not much. Call it a hunch but there’s something about the easy, casual way he puts words together that makes me think this guy is going to be interesting once he gets rolling. This is one to watch, and remember: You heard it here first.

The History of Happy-Talk News

In his latest column for the NYT, Frank Rich uses Will Ferrell’s new film, Anchorman, to explain how our definition of ‘news’ has changed from the days of Walter Cronkite to the days of Babwa Wawa, and gets it exactly right (except for leaving Walters out; her role was crucial).

[T]his toxic element was first injected into the media bloodstream by innovations in local news at the dawn of the 70’s. One of its earliest sightings was in New York, where Al Primo, a news director at WABC, brought Eyewitness News in late 1968. Looked at today at the Museum of Television and Radio, the early on-air promos for this then-novel brand of news are revelatory of what was to come and even funnier than the parodies of them in “Anchorman.”

In one, the young Geraldo Rivera brings the fellow members of his news “team” to a Puerto Rican wedding so that his ethnic “friends,” seemingly played by actors, can get to know his WABC “friends.” The next thing you know, one of the anchors, the grim Roger Grimsby, is shedding his sports jacket and hitting the dance floor with a sizzling Latina mama. The commercial’s sell line: “The Eyewitness News Team: The reason people like them so much is that they like people so much.” In 13 months, WABC doubled its ratings at 6 and 11, starting a nationwide stampede by local stations to ditch their authority-figure anchors for happy-talking surrogate news “families” of their own.

The format officially crossed over into network news in 1973, when ABC hired Frank Magid, a consultant who specialized in these theatrics, to develop the morning show, “AM America.” Built around a surrogate TV family and outfitted like a suburban home, it begat “Good Morning America” two years later. The rest is metastasis. “By the nineties, the tail was wagging the dog,” wrote the critic Steven D. Stark. “Now, local news was setting the journalistic standard for the networks.”

As dead-on as this explanation is, it’s only one arm of the joke-beast that’s come to be known in this country as the ‘news media’. The other arm is the injection of entertainment values into the news process, making Ashton Kutcher’s hairstyle equal in importance of coverage to Israel’s fence-construction or Bush’s rape of the environment to please his corporate contributors. Happy-Talk would have died a quick and painless death if it had had to follow serious stories; it’s hard to justify jocularity when you’re showing bodies in the streets and taking about political corruption, environmental negligence, and economic disaster for 80% of the newscast. It’s a lot easier when it’s only 20% and you’re spending the rest of your time on celebrity news like the Ben-JLo fiasco and titillating fillers like the Scott Peterson trial.

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