Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Military Blogs

Christmas distracted me from writing about this very good article by David Ignatius about milblogs.

There are some haunting images of the Iraqi people. A blogger named Michael, who spends his days dodging roadside bombs in Ramadi, sees an Iraqi man driving a tractor and wearing a New York Yankees cap. "I wondered if he hated the Red Sox," he writes. The author of "Sisyphus Today" describes moving with a speeding convoy when he sees a little Iraqi boy "crying at the top of his lungs" beside the road and realizes that the boy is alone and afraid. "I wanted to stop, in my mind the risk was minimal, but I couldn't stop the convoy. Where would I have taken the boy anyway? I can only say 'stop' and 'hello' in Arabic. So we drove on past."

Here is another good survey of the phenomenon, from the May issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. It includes the following interesting story:

In August 2004, a twenty-eight-year-old Army infantryman named Colby Buzzell, writing anonymously under the handle CBFTW (the last three letters stand for, alternately, “fuck the war” or “fuck the world”), posted his account of a vicious firefight with insurgents on his blog, My War. “We were driving there on that main street when all of a sudden all hell came down all around on us. I was like, this is it, I’m going to die. I cannot put into words how scared I was.” The battle received scant media attention, and the Pentagon played down the extent to which Buzzell’s brigade had even been involved in the fighting — crediting Iraqi security forces with the victory. Days later, though, a report in the Tacoma, Washington, News Tribune, which covers Buzzell’s Fort Lewis-based detachment, noted the discrepancy between Buzzell’s version and the Pentagon’s. This drew attention to Buzzell’s blog, and soon his officers learned his identity. Buzzell was later briefly confined to base, an experience he details in his forthcoming book, My War: Killing Time in Iraq, due out in October.

This blogger complains that the CJR article omits the fact that most milblogs are set up to expressly contradict the MSM's portrayal of the war. I disagree, since the article notes that "the coverage coming out of Iraq today doesn’t portray the grunts in the same deeply personal light. It is a different era, and most journalists have never served in the military and have only a passing acquaintance with the worlds that most soldiers come from." However, he's right that a lot of soldiers seem to resent the MSM portayal of the war. There's some political diversity among milbloggers, but they tend to be pro-war (which makes sense).

Some of the prose is very purple in some of the most popular blogs at sites like MILBlogging, but there's some really great stuff, too (btw, if you go to MILblogging, just ignore the guy who runs it and his partisan ranting about "the liberal lunatic MSM" and go directly to the blogs-- what he doesn't realize is that he's as annoying and unnecessary as any of the dumb intermediaries on Fox or CNN).

One good post I just read here has some thoughts about Iraq society as he has witnessed it, as well as some great photos:

Iraqi School Teacher: We know so little about these people and they so little about us

Line Was Drawn--No one expected lines like these in a place like Baquba

Yeah, he is biased and is making an argument with his photos, but it's still fascinating to see amateur dispatches from the front lines.

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  • At 6:15 PM, Blogger Neda Cole said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 6:21 PM, Blogger Neda Cole said…

    There's been a lot of talk about military blogs recently, with journalists heralding a complete change to war reporting, news from the front becoming instant and more informative than ever before etc.

    It will be interesting to see over time its effect on people's attitude toward war in general, whether or not people will find it so easy to support military intervention on the other side of the world when they're armed with more realistic information about soldiers' experiences on the frontlines. Although it seems that the real meaty gritty stuff is being censored and all we're really getting is some philosophising and lots of barracks diaries?

    I know modern warfare is a far cry from Wilfred Owen's fields scattered with bodies and gangrenous legs, but i'm guessing some of these kids have had to contend with more than the arduous decision of what to hang on their christmas trees. The last line of the CJR piece I guess deals with that in a way, 'Sometimes it is the absence of a post that puts the war into perspective for readers left to speculate on the blogger’s fate. Since January, the blogs of at least two soldiers have gone dark after their authors were killed in action.'

    For me all information is a good thing. Soldiers' voices have rarely been heard before now and war, since WWII something that happens to other people, that we never get too close a look at, bar the soldiers returning from action, so its great that they've got their platform.

    On the other side, some of the blogs i read rankled me a little. Even some of the more innocent ones like the one you've shown photos from here. That tag-line 'We know so little about these people and they so little about us' - you think? Most Iraqis are pretty well informed, i'd say they're pretty clued up on the US, and that, in part, is the problem.

    Anyway, there are also a lot of interesting blogs coming from Iraqi citizens dealing with daily life in Iraq under US occupation, one of my favourites from , a twenty-something Iraqi chick in Baghdad who provides an interesting, often amusing view from another perspective.

  • At 6:25 PM, Blogger Neda Cole said…

    Ok first sorry my comment is so long. Clearly christmas parties are over and i have nothing better to do.

    Second, I am not responsable for that long silly-looking link at the end. In my version (and the preview version damnit) the only linked word was 'Riverbend', the pen-name of the blogger which seems to have er.. gone missing.

  • At 11:06 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Heh, very true about his weird assumption that "they know so little about us," posted below a photo of a well-off Iraqi woman who looks like she might have a beach house in Corsca. These soldiers aren't cultural anthropologists. They're soldiers. We have to forgive their skewed interpretations, to an extent (not in a condescending way, just realistically).

    However, it's interesting to hear how they think. Like you said, we haven't really had such immediate access to their voices in any previous wars.

    I am not sure if they're being censored. The CJR story makes it sound like they only get censored if the blogs come to the attention of their superiors for some reason. I remember a year and a half ago when I read my first milblog I was surprised that the last thing he wanted to discuss was Iraq. All he wanted to talk about was the latest rock music (we had similar taste). These are just kids out there. Ordinary kids with all the ordinary foibles and preoccupations of 18-24 year-olds.

    Anyhow, I really liked Riverbend. Those are proper essays and I can completely understand why she has a book deal.

    I should blog about Iraqi blogs... unless you want to first, Neda?

  • At 6:53 AM, Blogger LL said…

    Solomon, I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't mine the wonderful blogs of 365 and a Wakeup or Michael Yon for some of the real good that the troops are doing.

  • At 8:10 AM, Blogger Neda Cole said…

    ok now i'm confused.. is that not Michael Yon's blog that Solomon's discussing there? With the photographs?

  • At 11:53 AM, Blogger LL said…

    Ahhh, sorry, I thought that one was from another blog, I didn't click the link and didn't see Michael's name. But there is more to his blog than the Iraqi people. The majority of it is focused on the Deuce Four and their outstanding commander. And a bit of a poke at the media.

  • At 1:38 AM, Blogger devildog6771 said…

    First, the Milblogs are not censored for anything unless it endangers the troops or security. They have a guideline to follow on that. Second, these "just soldiers" are like none ever before in our history. Most have College degrees. The reservists who are activated come from every blue and white collar level. They are also come from a varied professional pool. There are doctors, lawyers, scientists, factory workers, farmewrs, laborwers. They reflect the heart of America. Many are in fact "real" writers, Michael Yon, for one. They are highly intelligent. Their average IQ and educational level is above the National average of the non- military public.

  • At 3:32 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Well, yeah, it's clear after reading them that these are smart, observant people.

    When I said they weren't cultural anthropologists I just meant that if you don't have training in anthropology and the history of Iraq, etc., you're likely to have a more amateur approach. That's not a bad thing. Amateur dispatches are really refreshing. Anthropologists have training that makes them more dispassionate observers, whereas the milbloggers tend to be very passionate observers. Which is what makes them a good read.


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