Thursday, February 17, 2005

LitBlogs Has Moved!


As of today, you can find us here. Permanently, I hope.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

A View From A Broad--Don't Mess With The Kid

Maybe my taste runs to the outrageous, to people who say what they mean the way they want to say it and let the chips fall where they may. A View From A Broad is exactly what the title implies, the views of a self-styled 'broad' who takes no shit--and no prisoners.

'Ginmar', a soldier serving in Iraq, is profane, witty, and profound by turns, sometimes all at once. She's an unrepentant, uncompromising, unapologetic feminist, and proud of it. She rants, raves, sputters, snarls, snipes, and shivs many of her posts; she does not suffer fools gladly. Or at all. Instead, she makes them suffer, and is it ever fun to watch her do it.

(The following excerpts are all taken from the most recent page of AVFAB. Unfortunately, she's at LiveJournal which doesn't link separate posts. You'll have to scroll down the page to find the rest of each entry, but that's OK: on the way down you'll find a lot of great stuff I can't reprint.)

On the day her Top Sargeant had something to show her (a relatively mild one to begin with):
Sunday, October 3, 2004

Top came and got me this morning and dragged me out into the courtyard. "Ginmar, cmere," he said urgently.


"This is important. I gotta show you something."

The something turned out to be a frog living near the pool. "Uh, yeah." I looked at the frog. He looked at the frog. Then he looked at me significantly.

"It's a frog," he pointed out.

"I noticed that."

"I'm afriad of frogs."

So, to recap for those of you in the cheap seats, my 1st. Sgt., the cop from New Orleans, the guy who regularly does stupid and crazy shit and gets me to take his back while doing it, the guy who thrives in this environment, he's afraid of an animal that weighs approximately two ounces and which makes politicians look attractive.

"It's a frog."

"I warned the commander, if that thing gets in my hooch, there'll be shooting."

"Oh, come on, you can't go----committing, what? Amphibious assault on the poor thing. It's a frog! It's like invading France with nuclear weapons. Or inferior foie gras. Whatever."

"I hate frogs."

"Well, I'm sure they're not too fond of you. I like frogs."

The guy looked at me like I'd sprouted a fully-formed ugly twin out of one side of my head. Political differences, evidently, are not as frightening as having an affection for certain types of animals. "That's disgusting."

"I said I liked them, did I say I wantd to date them or something? Don't shoot the frog.It's not like anybody will believe you if you say it's self-defense."

Well, to make a long story short, I now have aggreed to perform operation Amphibian Extradition and I'm on Frog Patrol till the bugger decides to show his little green head again.
The typos are part of the charm. Ginmar writes fast and furious and doesn't seem to proof-read--either that or she does and misses a lot--because her head is stuffed with images and word-play and descriptions of what she's seen and done, and it's all coming out, not quite stream-of-consciousness but not exactly not. She makes no secret of the fact that she's using her blog to vent, so buyer-beware: this is not a blog for the faint of heart.

One of her recent gripes involves something called Websense, which I gather is a filter program the military uses to ban 'objectionable material' on the internet.
Thursday, Sept 30, 2004
Dipshits at the whorehouse door

Ah, yes. Now the Army wants to protect me from....The Army. Yeah, that makes sense.
Who the fuck is fine-tuning this damned thing? It makes about as much sense as my SPAM. If you went by my damned spam(heh) I'm an insecure, overweight, hermaphrodite with a small penis and problems dating. I have bad credit that for some reason only Jesus' love can heal, and a variety of ailments that require lots of medications, ranging from viagra to valium. The only thing I haven't seen is Hair Club for Men, which has always sounded to me like it's for people who collect hair, rather than lose it. Maybe they pick it up by the side of the road, I don't know.

And Websense makes just about as much sense. Swimsuits and lingerie are verboten, coffee clatches have become deadly (Put down the butter knife, Aunt Mildred! You can win this rubber!) literary salons are deadly, and some feminist websites are tasteless. So is expressing yourself, evidently. You can't buy phone cards home because I guess talking to your relatives will corrupt you. Beats me, but I know talking to some of my relatives will make you back away very, very slowly.

My SPAM is run by the sort of hucksters who make up the shit the SBV for Karl Rove's Truth believe in desperately; the only thing is they haven't figured out to turn a profit at being liars. Oh, wait, yes they have----look at Halliburton, fiddling while Iraq burns. For some reason, there's lots of Christian spammers out there, trying to sell me a mortage and true Christian lurve, which almost makes me think of Donny Osmond or something.
But right after this very funny takedown, she shifts gears.
Websense some kind of Puritan standing guard at the whorehouse door, charging admission and clucking disapprovingly, except here they don't ever let you in, and you've already paid the price because you're in Iraq already. Once again, I'm reminded of the unique status of the citizen soldier: we represent our country, and defend it, and it's moments like this that make me wonder what exactly we're getting in return. We have to have our websites screened because we're so easily influenced we might be led in some way that others might disapprove of---yet they trust us to shape a nation.

Half the soldiers here are Reservists, which means they're used to non-military environments and other perspectives. We represent America more realistically than our very own Congress does: there are more women in the military---hell, in the Marines----than there are Congress----and yet we must be clucked and nannies as if we were children.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

You cannot trust us in part when you ask us for everything in return. We are not just a means to an end here, but an end in and of ourselves. At the most intimate basic level, all this handholding means that somewhere, somehow....we are not trusted by the very people who ask us to lay down our lives for their principles.

I have to wonder what else is going to happen.

Dammit, I hate it when I start bitching and turn serious.

I'm going to bed.
Some of my favorite rants involve her work. I'm not too clear on what she does except it has something to do with computers and reports, and may be connected to logistics and/or supplies. It doesn't matter. You don't have to know what she does to appreciate this:
Friday, Sept 24, 2004--4.43am
Paper and computers

What a day.

Get off work in morning after dealing with incredible passive aggressive snippiness from Higher. "FIX COMMENTS." I stared at this, befuddled, having gone through eighteen reports that had evidently been written by squirrels suffering from Attention Deficit Disoorder after their caffeine and Red Bull IV drip went empty. These reports had been typed on a Swahili keyboard by someone who spoke only Mandariin Chinese, and only as a third language, too. And they'd flunked whatever mandarin Chinese exam they're giving squirrels these days.

After hours of this, I was squinty-eyed and hostile, in no moood for passive aggrressive REMFs in Baghdad who take time out from picking at the one or two reports they do a night to surf the Internet and get all snippy.

So of course, here was passive aggressive in spades.

In order to type that FIX COMMENTS my anonymous little buddy had to scroll past the section in question and then type in his little note. In order to fix the damned thing, he had only to click and backspace. Twit.
Then there's her roommate.
My roomie, for example: she complains that I just 'sleep too light.' This explains why, when I'm trying to get a few hours' sleep, her turning the light on and rustling around wakes me up. So I left my light on when I went on shift.

She turned it off.

I finally gave up being polite and asked her to turn the light off. "I'm reading a book." And your point is? You work---maybe---eight hours a day. You get up when you feel like it. You get off when you feel like it. You have a day off. I, however, work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I don't get days off. My sleeping is a priority over your entertainment. Fucking A.

I love to analyze language and how people use it, and saying anything other than, "Just a second, I'll turn it off," is unacceptable. She likes to come into the room, turn on the light, and then leave. But she doesn't turn the light off. Because you know, she might need it on some time in the near future.

That attitude just fascinates me because it's just not any different from the guys who say that women should wear veils so they don't provoke men. I'm supposed to exist around her, to her standards, and by her rules. Same thing, just different subject. It's fangirl logic.
And Capt. Grumpy.
Eveyr day I go to work I tiptoe in the office and listen quietly for noises in the office. If the coast is clear, I sneak down the hallway, ready to jump out at CPT. Grumpy, who I've been threatening with a whoopie cushion. It doesn't happen a lot but every now and then I get him. Today wasn't one of those days. "Ginmar, who cut your hair?"

Guys, seriously? I mean, men, here? Ask a question like this, and nothing will protect you. I'm serious. This is just not a good way to begin a person's work day, especially when they've spent the last twelve hours trying to get five hours sleep. "Sir...." I said warningly.

"Hey, are you giving me attitude?" He was doing the CPT. Grumpy smirk, which means he's going to tease you. "Did you pay for that?"

"Sir, do not diss my hair."

"Are you---?"

"Hair knows no rank, sir." I said firmly, and the undeniable truth of this statment shut him up. Hey, I may be five foot three on a good day, and he's about six foot six, but dammit, nobody talks about my hair. Especially somebody who doesn't have any.
And these are all from the same post. Which still isn't over. (Background: Ginmar had developed a relationship of sorts with some of the local Iraqi men trying to scratch a living from the Army by selling stuff in the market outside her offices. Her community of readers, to help out, have been sending her money to purchase these goods. One of the men she wrote most about was killed in a bombing. Others have been as well. This is her reaction.)
And in the midst of all this, I get an email that tells me that yet another guy at the market had died, the cheeky guy who dropped his hand too low when we had our picture taken together. The Big Guy came stepping up to him to wallop him good-naturedly across the head, and now that impudent, cheerful guy is dead. I have to wonder, does it matter that we hope to do the right thing here? Does it matter to his family? When the number of soldiers who've died here matches the number of people dead on September 11th, then what happens? Are these 'good' deaths somehow? All that matters to their family is that they're dead.

And then you go back to the office, having emptied your pockets of everything for the burned man, the skinny man, the man who sells tea sets, and you face a computer screen. Somewhere on the other end of the wire are people who bitch at you for misplaced commas and parenthasees rather than click on them themselves and fix them. They read the reports you write about the deaths, and they don't know that you knew the dead people, they don't the dead at all. Adn then they forward those reports higher and higer and higher, till the people who look at them see only numbers, at an impossible distance.

People say war is hell. At this level, it is. At the heights, though, all it is paper and computers.
That post is emblematic of Ginmar's genius as a writer. She turns an ordinary day, beginning with a grouse about the twits on the upper end of the food chain, into a profound comment on how different the war looks from ground-level to the way it must look from above the mud. She has a rare ability to meld a diametrical opposition into an integrated picture with universal meaning--something we can see, feel, and understand as separate pieces of the same whole.

A View From A Broad is a combat diary but of a different kind of combat, the kind where you're fighting attitudes instead of enemy soldiers with guns. Ginmar is a warrior alright, but her war is on stupidity, selfishness, and unnecessary chaos. Her weapons are sarcasm, clear eyes, and an almost complete lack of patience with or tolerance for cruelty and blindness no matter which side they come from. She sees and she tells, without fear or favor, and what more can you ask of a blogger?


1. I realize I slighted her feminism in choosing excerpts. That wasn't because I was ducking it (it's some of her best stuff) but because these are what's on her top page at present and, since there are no post-links, I didn't want you to have to scroll the archives searching for the originals. Besides, I thought I should leave some of her brilliance for you to discover for yourselves.

2. The AVFAB commenters are something of a family, which may or may not be your thing. I don't do 'communities', especially not tight ones--as hers is--who have been together so long they've developed history and a raft of inside jokes. You may feel right at home or you may want to just skip them.

3. Prowl the archives. Prepare to spend some time at it. There's so much good reading there that it's hard to quit once you start. There's a flow, like a looooong story with new chapters added every night over the campfire, each one bleeding naturally and almost seamlessly into the next. I intended to spend a half-hour or an hour surfing them and emerged 6 hours later, having to tear myself away because I had to go to work. AVFAB's archives ought to be labeled: 'WARNING! Contains material that may be addictive. There is no known cure.'

I will leave you with what very well may be the shortest Ginmar post on record--her assessment of Ann Coulter.
Sunday, Sept 26, 2004

Gah. I just talked to someon who thought Ann Coulter was cool. To which I could only respond: "Has she had her distemper shot yet? Because the frothing thing? So not cool."
(Many thanks to Cyclopatra for turning me on to Ginmar.)

Friday, October 01, 2004

Shame Shame!

This site has been shamefully neglected the past month, especially during the past couple of weeks that I've been moving my two other sites from Blogger to a webhost with programs that actually work. Arran's Alley wasn't too bad but Dispatch from the Trenches involved a major overhaul and was very time-consuming. I apologize to all the visitors for the lack of action here, and assure you that things will be getting back to normal soon. DT is almost finished, at least for the time being, and I hope to have it done this weekend and a new post here by Monday (on the milblog I've been promising to review).

Once again I apologize and plead lack of time, and I thank you for your continued loyalty. I won't test it much longer.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

A Plan for Handling the Milblogs

Since CBFTW's highly regarded (by me as well as others) blog MY WAR--Fear and Loathing in Iraq was shut down--by himself, it now appears--questions have been raised about how the military is handling milblogs. Are they being too heavy-handed? If OPSEC (Operational Security) is the issue, shouldn't they just shut all the blogs down rather than take the risk of someone saying something that endangers troops or strategic goals? Eric Magnell, an Army lawyer stationed in Iraq, gives a pretty clear explanation of the difficulties at his blog, Dagger JAG.

[T]he information environment has changed so much and is so different than in any previous war or conflict. Here in Iraq we have access to so much new communications capabilities it really is mind-boggling when you think about it. When my father was in Vietnam he wrote letters and mailed home cassettes or reel to reel tapes to keep in touch with my mom and his family. Even thirteen years ago, during Desert Storm, the soldiers still wrote letters and had very, very few opportunities to call their families in the States. With these new capabilities come some very real concerns over operational security. Back in WWII they popularized the saying "loose lips sink ships" and they censored servicemembers letters back to the states. Now we have those same posters hanging in our internet cafes and above our phones. We know that our enemies are computer "savvy" and may have the ability to intercept emails or other communications over the internet. Every soldier has to be aware and concerned about saying or writing anything that could potentially give our enemies information. Even potentially innocent statements which, by themselves, mean nothing can provide intelligence for our opponents when matched with other innocuous open source information.

But OPSEC isn't the only consideration. Yes, soldiers do lose some freedoms to say and do what they please when tney enter the Army, but not all of them. And there is an irony for them in fighting a war to free the expression of a foreign people while at the same time having their own curtailed for sometimes mysterious reasons. 'Combat Doc' at Candle in the Dark sums it up this way:

The higher-ups have found that the unedited embedded reporter known as Joe is the best and the worst thing that has happened to this war. The best because if you're like me you are all for this fight, others see things differently and voice it. The problem with speaking out is that you will be heard.

Some of the recent events have made me doubt their actions. When you silence a soldier who has done nothing out of reg's you lend yourself to suspicion. Why are they silencing the voice of the people who can sell this war better than anybody. Again, as long as the soldier has violated no regulation, you're golden. Has something been done that needs to be silenced, I doubt it. I think the highers feel the political preassure of Abu Gharib and Najaf bearing down so they fear any media coverage. It seems though as they don't trust their own regulations to cover them.

The silencing of any humans voice, even when I can't agree, will lead to the silencing of all dissenting opinions. Americans must show their openness to their own flaws and triumphs or else the lesson we are trying to teach and the peoples we are trying to free will, rightfully, tell us ALL to shut up and buy a black car.

(Thanks to CB for both those links.)

Finally, there is the issue I've already written about at length--the military's need to control its image in the outside world.

Part of the problem here is that the whole phenomenon of milblogs is brand new, and the military--not one of the speediest organizations in the world when it comes to reorganizing itself--doesn't yet seem to have developed a set of criteria for what is or is not acceptable in blogging. They're apparently taking it on a case-by-case basis for the time being, and working it out as they go. But there is an issue which over-rides the questions of what bloggers will be allowed to say: how are they going to enforce whatever standards and rules they eventually decide on? How much manpower and man hours is policing blogs and email and all the other electronic communications devices available today going to take? There are, after all, thousands of blogs and tens of thousands of email addresses that could conceivably need to be checked regularly. So before we figure out what we're going to allow, maybe we should figure out how that policing could work.

That's where Chris Missick comes in.

Sgt Chris Missick is another military blogger. He runs a site called A Line in the Sand from somewhere in Iraq. He writes about what he sees as misperceptions about the war, about his love for the military and his belief that the war in Iraq is more than justified. To his credit, he will give equal time to opposing viewpoints--which is more than Bill O'Reilly will do--and generally tries to find some ground where the sides can meet and if not agree at least discuss their beliefs without punching each other.

But Chris isn't just a blogger; he happens to be a communications techie, and he has some suggestions for how the tech issue could be handled.

[The] AKO (the army's e-mail service) [could] set up a blogging platform that soldiers could use. The posts would be reviewed by an MI personnel and then once approved, it would be published. The turn around could be remarkably short if the program was even minimally staffed, and the OPSEC headaches that soldier bloggers face would be alleviated. All soldier blogs would also be located under a single server, so it would be relatively easy for the public to comb through and read a variety of them.

I modeled my idea after the earlier modus operandi of communications after WWII, with a 21st century twist. Indeed, the single server would be unique, and since only soldiers would be able to access it through the AKO, the network of blogs would be certifiably military personnel. They could be assigned a user number, rather than name if they wish to remain anonymous, but could include their e-mail on there. Once enrolled, their commander could then receive an e-mail informing them that their soldiers have been enrolled. This way, accountability is maintained, OPSEC is secured, and the soldier still has a means of expressing his thoughts.

I'm not in the military but it seems to me as an outsider that Chris' idea has a lot of merit. It sounds like it would clear the first hurdle--'How'--and set up a simple system for accountability and monitoring. Security software could conceivably be modified to red-flag the kinds of keywords that MI would consider problematic, and the whole thing could be streamlined to cut delays to a minimum.

Milblogs are a valuable tool for the military as well as for the troops, as I've said; I don't think they really want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Chris' proposal would allow them to maintain reasonable control while also allowing troops to express their thoughts and feelings to the folks back home without endangering OPSEC. It's an elegant solution, not perfect but better than the shotgun approach they've got now.

Postscript: MY WAR Update

By the way, CB is posting again--not his own stuff, but articles he finds of interest and material from other soldiers' blogs. Most of it is interesting reading--he's got good taste--and he links to excellent sites loaded with (vetted) information. Check it out.

Friday, September 10, 2004

My War--Update 2

CBFTW has another new post up, plus he has put back some of his archives--he calls it a Best Of--so we can re-read some of the old stuff we thought was lost (it wasn't, thank god; just locked up). In the new post, 'My War Continues...', he says he won't be writing his personal experiences any more and comes as close to telling us what happened as he can.

I am officially no longer writing about any of my personal experiences here in Iraq on this website.

For two reasons:
1.) For fear of any future punishment that could be handed down to me in regards to anything that I may write on this website that would prevent me from being with the members of my Platoon and doing the job that I love, which is being a Machine Gunner in the Infantry.
2.) Many Americans have fought and died for our Freedom of Speech, and I, personally, would prefer death over censorship of any form.

"The people keeping CB from posting are the same people that kept him from skating the Ralphs parking lot back in the day...
that is all you have to know about liberty and freedom, the politics of skateboarding"
Comment written by a reader

There's also a rundown of links and media articles that mention either CB or his blog, and a couple of letters that readers sent him. Check it out.

In a day or so, I'm going to be posting a piece on how the military might conceivably handle the milblog issue based on suggestions that were sent to me by Chris Missick of A Line in the Sand. Chris is a milblogger who happens to specialize in communication, and I think his suggestions have merit--they could work.

See you then.

Monday, September 06, 2004

My War Update: New Post, Hurry Hurry Hurry!

CBFTW has just published his first post since his blog, MY WAR--Fear and Loathing in Iraq, was shut down, whether by himself or his military superiors is unknown at this point. Yesterday, the LA Times mentioned his blog in an article about milblogs without quoting from it. Today, CB corrects that oversight in a new post that adds what the LAT should have included. But you have to hurry--he says the post will only be up for 24 hours and then it's back to 'Over and Out'. (Look for 'Combat Jack' at the bottom of the post.)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Update: My War, Over and Out

Those of you who began reading this blog with my review of CBFTW's My War--Fear and Loathing in Iraq (CBFTW is a Hunter Thompson fan) and got thoroughly hooked on it in the days and weeks afterward most likely already know this, but for those of you who may be tuning in late, My War has been shut down--maybe by CBFTW himself, but maybe by the Army, and for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Ron Brynaert at Why Are We Back in Iraq? has done a nice job summarizing the story, some of which I didn't know.
[O]ne day he posted a story which claimed that he just fought a battle with Al Qaeda...bad enough...but he also claimed (mostly based upon the word of one of his Commanding Officers) that the enemies were Al Qaeda that had come into Iraq from Iran.
That seems to have been the beginning of his difficulties (although Ron mentions that right-wing commenters had begun using My War as a platform for supporting the SGW and attacking anyone who didn't or whose support was less than enthusiastic), though why it should have been is a mystery. The battle was reported in the press, as was the participation of AQ which came straight from official Army statements; C was merely repeating what we already knew. The Army also didn't seem to have a problem with it since they left it up. They did, however, decide that from then on they wanted to see what he wrote before he posted it. And they wanted some changes.
The first noticable change was that the title was shortened to "My War." I guess the Military don't do irony. Then he started to become annoyed with the myriad of posters on his blog. He was trying to sanitize his site for the brass...but posters were copy-and-pasting and resubmitting some of his posts.
No, Ron, the military doesn't do 'irony'. They don't know what it is but they're pretty sure it must be a way of making fun of them.

If the commenters were a drag, he could have shut them off. He was running a new Blogger template and all he had to do was go to the comments settings and click 'No'. From that point on, no comments would have been allowed. A lot of bloggers whose comments sections are becoming wastelands of right-wing troll excess have been forced to do that--or threaten to. C must have known that--maybe he isn't a techie but he had to turn them on when he set up the blog, so he knew he could turn them off. He could even delete the ones that had already been posted. That wasn't the real problem. Here's the real problem (Ron again):
Then he became famous.

He began getting write-ups here and there throughout the land. One day, the Wall Street Journal ran a story which carried his name, and while it didn't mention his blog, it pretty much told the same story as one of his posts (I'm not going to give the exact link...because his name is in it). Then NPR ran a piece on him. Yet, they (stupidly...though they later corrected it by deleting it) made a direct connection to his name and blog.

On August 19th, CB's only post was the text to the 1st Amendment, which created a ton of wild speculation. He returned briefly to the blog warning his fans again not to copy-and-paste. But most wouldn't listen.
There's more to this story (read Ron's whole post) but that, I think, is the heart of it.

The Army is notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to the media--any media. After the Viet Nam War, they began treating the press as if it were as much an enemy as the enemy. The reason was simple: the press of that day told the truth about what was happening in Viet Nam, and that truth was not necessarily complimentary to the military. Their arrogance, bad decisions, and total misunderstanding of both the enemy they were fighting and the kind of war it was were paraded nightly on television. The massive exaggeration of the number of enemy killed and the orders to exaggerate were reported in full. Westmoreland's blunt style wasn't a good fit for tv but that wasn't what did him in. His downfall--and to some extent the Army's with him--came from his own mouth: he insisted that things were true that we could see for ourselves were not. His credibility at the end of his tenure was below that of a used-car salesman or Scott McClellan.

And then there were the pictures--of a South Vietnamese intelligence officer shooting a suspected VC in the head at point-blank range; of a naked Vietnamese woman running down the road, screaming, from her napalmed village; of a platoon of Special Forces commandos posing with their collection of VC body parts--ears, teeth, noses, fingers--and smiling for the camera. Americans began to ask themselves, 'What kind of war is this? What's it doing to our boys?', and once they started asking, the war was as good as over. For the answers were not satisfactory.

The Domino Theory--that the Soviets intended to take over the world one country at a time and so we had to stop them in Viet Nam or they'd be invading Santa Monica--had by 1970 been so thoroughly discredited that not even the hard-liners used it as an excuse any more. The next line--that we were bringing democracy to Viet Nam and saving it from a dictatorial takeover--began to fall apart when we saw the destruction and havoc we were wreaking on that country in the name of saving it--a doctrine forever emblazoned in our minds by the phrase, 'We had to destroy the village in order to save it' uttered by an unnamed Army Colonel. Eventually, it was just too hard to see what we saw and believe that there would be much country left to democratize when we got done with it.

The third excuse--that we were protecting the people of South Viet Nam from the revenge the Communist North Vietnamese would undoubtedly take on the South--was so weak it never got any traction. The South Vietnamese wanted us gone worse than the insurgents; by then, they were more frightened of us than of anything their blood-cousins would be likely to do to them.

None of this was really the military's fault. They were, to the best of their ability, trying to carry out their orders--orders from civilian commanders who knew even less than they did about the war they were being asked to fight; who had lots of theories and beliefs but no real experience; who were operating from a premise so profoundly false that there was no way it could ever have been brought into the real world. Viet Nam was their mistake, not the military's.

But the military did make mistakes, some of them irretrievable. There was Tiger Force, there was My Lai, there was fragging because untrained looeys were being put in positions of authority and getting men killed unnecessarily, there were the inflated body-counts and the inflated 'victories', and on and on. In the end, the military, particularly the Army, was blamed for both its own mistakes and the mistakes of its civilian commanders, and the way they saw it, it was the press that was doing the blaming.

They reacted at first by over-reacting: they began to shut the press out entirely. During the First Gulf War, they controlled the press with an iron fist. No reporter was allowed to go anywhere near the actual fighting; most were ordered into far-away enclaves--hotels in Kuwait and Cairo--where they were totally dependent on military press officers for information. No tv, no radio, no photographers. The shut-down worked so well that it was years before we even heard about the Highway of Death much less saw pictures of it. The Army had used silence and secrecy to rehabilitate its reputation. It liked the result.

During the invasion of Iraq, it was so confident in its ability to control the press that it allowed some reporters to ride with certain selected units, 'embedded' with them. It was a brilliant strategy. Not only could they control everything the 'embeds' saw or heard, but the embeds began to identify themselves with the units with which they rode, becoming cheerleaders rather than reporters.

Then the Army set up CentCom with the help of Republican PR strategist and dirty-tricks specialist Jim Wilkenson, a Hollywood-style set faked to look like a military HQ but miles from the action, and herded the giant press corps into it like cows, feeding them pre-digested pap that everybody had to pretend was 'information'. The results must have been beyond their wildest expectations--glowing reports filled the nation's tv screens, the military was all but worshipped, dissenters and questioners were--and still are--shouted down with calls of 'Traitor!', often accompanied by vocal and colorfully detailed threats.

In other words, they learned that absolute control works. The Viet Nam lesson was, "Show them only what you want them to see and prevent them at all costs from seeing anything else.' It is a dictum they have lived by in the years since and it has served them well.

It is not too much to infer that that strict control has been or is being extended to soldier-blogs like C's. Until the plug got pulled on My War, it frankly never occurred to me that anyone would care what he wrote as long as he wasn't doing dumb things like giving away their position or plans in advance, which he wasn't. He's a smart kid, and he was always careful to include only general information that the enemy would already know or personal details that would be of no interest or value to them.

But I was wrong. They did care. It wasn't the comments and it wasn't that he was giving away military secrets, which he wasn't. It was the potential notoriety and, more importantly, the possibility that C might say something that wasn't completely flattering to the military, the president, his commanders or those who commanded them. Look at the evidence as they must have seen it: he had a b & w copy of the most famous anti-war picture ever painted--Picasso's Guernica--on his header; he was a fan of the most notorious and undisciplined gonzo journalist of all time, infamous for ferocious independence, a dogged refusal to write what was expected, and insisting that nothing--NOTHING--was 'off the record'; and he was getting noticed by the media. The WSJ was alright, but that bastion of Communists, fellow-travelers, and military-bashers, NPR? Not acceptable. And NPR didn't help, although I can't see that publishing his name should have been a huge problem--Sgt Chris Missick has his name all over A Line in the Sand and nobody is terribly concerned about him. But then, Sgt Missick isn't a potential dissenter.

And that, I think, was the real issue: C wanted to tell the truth and the Army didn't want to take the chance that he would. The Army did not want to risk losing control of the official message, the only message the media was allowed to get. They didn't want any loose cannons. Whether they shut down C's site because it was one, or C shut it down himself rather than be told what he could or couldn't write, I don't know. At this point, only C does. If the latter, I can understand why and I support his decision; if the former, it was a mistake.

C had grown enormously as a writer in the short months he had his blog. While I disagree with Ron's characterization that C's early posts 'weren't well-written'--they may have been short on grammar and badly organized, but as I said in my review, there was a raw but undeniable talent there struggling to get out, and that was clear from the git-go--there's no argument that the more he wrote, the better he got. Even his grammar improved (he was concerned about that), and the way he organized his posts, while still scattershot, was beginning to show the earmarks of a subtle and sophisticated coherence--throughlines based on hidden connections and not-immediately-obvious resonances that would have escaped a casual eye. He was seeing more and seeing more deeply, and he was proving that he could write what he saw.

If the Army shut him down, they shouldn't have. He was a forceful voice for their presence in Iraq and he wasn't doing it with the PR jargon that many of us now dismiss as soon as we read it. He was doing it by letting us see what was really going on and how it affected both sides. Ultimately, it's in the military's best interest that we know those things, and their strongest argument lies in our understanding and support. Whether he knew it or not, intended it or not, C's writing was explaining and defining that role from ground-level.

C had the distinction of being that truly rare bird, a non-partisan. He wasn't for the war and he wasn't against it, he was just a grunt doing a job and telling us about it as plainly and as honestly as he could. As he said in an email to Ron, 'I'm not a republican or a democrat, I'm just a skater from SF who's packin a machine gun in iraq at the moment.' My War let us connect with him and others just like him in a direct way that isn't available from any other source. In the long run, the military could only benefit from such a connection. In the long run, they can only suffer because it was broken.