On Sunday, I reviewed three blogs by soldiers from Iraq, including one written by a Sgt Chris Missick called A Line in the Sand which I suspected wasn’t legitimate because of the way it read. It would seem I have done Sgt Missick a gross injustice.
Much of the following was written tongue in cheek.1. To address Mr. Arren’s fist fallacious statement, that I am “a PR flack for the military,” I have this to say: I am a 31 Romeo, a multi-channel systems transmission operator/maintainer. I am currently working with Army phone and internet networks, administrating them to ensure they run properly. Unfortunately I can not go too much further into my daily job descriptions because of something the military refers to OPSEC, Operational Security, and I can not breach that trust. I have never admitted to being on the frontlines on a daily basis and have always made quite clear that I am simply proud to be a cog in the wheel that is the machine of the US Army. Mr. Arren, you may just be receiving a confirmation from my lieutenant after he reads this, he’s a good man and can verify that my word is good. I do have PR experience in my civilian career, but when I am in uniform, I simply a soldier with a blogging hobby.
That isn’t necessary, Sgt Missick. I believe you. That was Charge No 1. Charge dismissed. To the charge that the required disclaimer is missing:
I beckon you all to now examine my pages, each one of them, and look at the very bottom. On each page I state, “© 2004 Missick.com, please request permission to use any images from this site: firstname.lastname@example.org This site reflects the opinion of the author and is in no way connected to the US Army, DOD, or any Federal agency.”
He’s right–it’s there and I missed it. It’s in very small letters at the very bottom of the screen, but it’s there. Charge No 2. Dismissed. To the charge that it’s a complicated site that must have required a lot of time:
The essays are the same thing as the blog, the two are actually the same page. In terms of the pictures, check the last time I had a chance to post any: May 4, 2004. That’s nearly three months ago! The letters page is long, but again, I have not had any time to post new one’s since sometime in May. The video section is complete with a list of recuitment videos’, (er, wait) I have actually never posted anything up there. And the guest book, where I even request e-mail addresses… I am sorry Mr. Arren, but this is not a dark recruitment scheme. Rather, I have tried in the past to thank those who take the time to sign it by sending them a thank you e-mail for supporting the troops. Hhmm, I’ve never been told I look like Oliver North, that’s a first. And finally, the Signal Battalion reference: I do help build and monitor the phone networks, sounds a lot like the Signal Corps to me. Take a look at the pictures, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
For this, there is no excuse. I made a snap judgment without actually checking and jumped to a conclusion I shouldn’t have made. My abject apologies, Sgt Missick and I assure you I will not make that mistake again. It was bonehead, bush-league, and arrogant. Truly, I’m not usually any of those things–well, at least I’m not usually amateurish; one out of three is better than nothing, isn’t it?
In any case, I grovel at your feet. I fucked up, Big Time, and I’m sorry. I should have checked the tabs and I should have looked more closely at the bottom of the page. I owe you an apology and you may consider that you have it. Now let’s get to what’s really important.
In this entry [Desperate Enough to Serve–MA], I made the case that people all too frequently make the assumption that military personnel are the most desperate of our society, the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream. Within this typecast soldier that some media personalities have fostered as indicative of the American soldier, many honestly begin to doubt the ability of our fighting men and women to do anything but kill. My blog has been my own attempt to help break that stereotype and allow people to open their minds and see a soldier who has undying love for his country, his Army and the people whom we have attempted to liberate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sgt, what I just quoted above is much clearer, more passionate and more readable than what’s in that post. I think I need to make this point clear: My critique has nothing whatever to do with what you wrote and everything to do with how you wrote it. If what you wrote above was the point of that post, you buried it in so much institutional language that it was all but invisible, and that’s a goddam shame because your point is well-taken and deserves real discussion and thought. And my question is: if you can write as well as you do in the above paragraph, which is clear, direct and provocative, why in god’s name are you putting such an important human issue under layers of bureaucratic PR-speak like this:
I am however typical of many of the people I know in the Army, who were driven to service in recent years by a determination to serve this country, to make a contribution, and to earn our freedom.
It isn’t that I disbelieve the emotion, necessarily, but that it’s so general, so remote from personal language that it could have been ripped whole off a recruiting poster, which means, to me, maybe it’s true and maybe it’s something he thinks he’s supposed to say.
Blogs aren’t recruiting posters or campaign speeches, they’re personal journals. What you wrote above (in the bold) are nothing but slogans; as a reader I want more than that. Tell me why you believe them so passionately; tell me about some of the people you’re talking about, in their own words if possible–what did you and they sacrifice to be answer this call? why did you decide to do it? why did they? If you have seen things or heard things since you’ve been there that confirmed your belief–or didn’t–what were they? what happened? who was involved? how did it go down? what did they say to you? You, Chris, not the Army or the politicians or the Great Geo-Political Imperative.
Come out from behind the bureaucratese and write as you did in the passage from your rebuttal: directly. There isn’t one slogan in that passage. Instead, that passage contains this:
…the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream.
Now that’s writing. You don’t need slogans. Your writing is far better–more forceful, more persuasive, clearer–without them. That’s a marvelous sentence (well, half-sentence): pissed off at a wrong-headed and unfair judgment by people who are making assumptions and generalizing about other people they don’t know but who are individuals and have more reasons than poverty for what they chose to do. All of that comes through that sentence (and the rest of the passage); none of it–NONE OF IT–comes through in the original.
Write more like that and A Line in the Dust will be not just a better blog, but potentially a must-read. You’ve obviously got things to say, and if they’re like your concern over the ‘desperation’ stereotype, I want to hear them. So will a lot of other people.
I write in a civilized tone and live my life in the very same manner because I am here not just for one demographic of our country, I am here for all Americans.
That’s the problem, Chris–no, not the civilized tone. You may be there for all Americans but you are NOT all Americans. You’re Sgt Chris Missick, one American, one soldier, as far as we and your blog are concerned, and you can only speak for yourself; you may represent the feelings and beliefs of others to some degree, but you can only speak for them effectively through your voice, the voice in that passage.
Your blog–and the others I read–prompted me to offer some advice on writing to military bloggers. One section was specifically the result of reading your blog. Here it is:
4. Write what’s in front of youWriting is about people, not things. Somebody once said that if you set out to write the Great American Novel about The Immigration Experience, you’re going to end up with nothing but social-scientist cliches and platitudes. You can only write about the people who immigrated–who they were, the experiences they had, what happened to them. The ‘Immigrant Experience’ comes through them. Blogs are no different. They’re about you, the people you work with, the people you hang out with, the people you meet, not about The Great Geo-Political Issues. Those things will come–can only come–from writing about the people who live with the consequences. A story about how a family’s life changes when its electricity gets turned on is worth a thousand stories repeating again and again like ad copy, ‘We turned on their electricty!’ Maybe it shouldn’t be but it is; that’s the way people are.
In the case of the ‘Desperation’ post, one story about somebody you know and why–in personal terms–they gave up so much to be there, or even you explaining your own decision writing as directly and honestly and passionately and convincingly as you do in your rebuttal, is worth more than 10,000 pages filled with slogans.
My criticism stands. In fact, having seen how you can actually write free of the stultifying cliches, it’s stronger than ever. You have an interesting and unique voice and I urge you to let it loose. You’ll be doing a disservice to those you would like to use your blog to explain and/or defend if you don’t. Sloganeering isn’t going to help them; explaining them to us as the people they are, will. I don’t say it will be easy; I say you have the ability if you choose to develop it.
PS: Sgt? It’s ‘Arran’, not ‘Arren’. But don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes.
(Cross-posted at LitBlogs)