Friday, October 27, 2006

A worthy book for the shelf...

From :

Marc Danziger: ‘The Blog of War’ redefines combat reporting

Marc Danziger, The Examiner
Oct 27, 2006 2:00 AM (10 hrs ago)

WASHINGTON - A book of blog posts may seem like an odd thing to publish; blogs are written as a transitory medium, and in most cases are best left that way.

There’s a new book of blog posts that’s worth your attention, however; “The Blog of War: Frontline Dispatches from Military Bloggers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Direct knowledge of the men and women in the military wasn’t particularly a large part of my background. No one — at all — in my high school class joined the military.

In college, the only members of the military I ever encountered were vaguely creepy members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. My father served in World War II — in a non-martial but critical role as a cryptographer in Hawaii and India, and through my father’s job in construction I met a number of men who’d been in the service. But those were distant connections, and gave me little connection to my peers who serve in the military. …

And then I discovered the military bloggers. Current and ex-members of the military rode the wave of blog mainstreaming and suddenly there they were in my laptop, talking to me. Reading their work and meeting them changed me profoundly. Colby Buzzell, Lt. Smash, Chief Wiggles, the cast expanded with every link I clicked.

The pseudonomyous Blackfive was one of the original cast of characters in that space and now he’s stepped into the limelight as Matthew Burden, a Chicago-based ex-Special Forces operator with a keen sense of humor, a strong sense of honor, and good taste in Scotch. Disclosure: I’ve met him once, at a conference in Boston — I think.

Burden’s book is a collection of blog posts about life in the military and about the war. To be blunt, if you read blogs as regularly as I do, you’ll have read most of them. But most people don’t check Instapundit or Kevin Drum every quarter-hour. And for those people, Burden has put together a tasting menu that puts much of the best of the milblogs between covers and lets you read them without a battery.

There is a wide array of stories in the book — the voices and messages are scattered widely — but if you treat it as a cocktail party where you get to meet, briefly, an array of interesting people, if only for a moment — you’ll relish it.

Because it’s the people you meet who’ll matter. Sean Dustman (“Doc in the Box”) recounts a poem a friend write for him as he deployed:

“… He has been shorn into a beautiful
Monk, ready to sacrifice
Ready to jump to help the helpless
I admire him, but I still don’t want him to go
I avoid telling him that my heart is breaking
A thousand times all over again
I am learning to pray ceaselessly to a deity
I’m not sure I really believe in
Keep him safe keep him safe keep him safe”

Lt. Cmdr. Heidi Kraft, a doctor, keeps very practical lists:
“Things That Were Not Good
“Terrifying camel spiders, poisonous scorpions, flapping bats in the
darkness, howling, territorial wild dogs, flies that insisted on landing
on our faces, giant, looming mosquitoes, invisible sand flies that carry leischmaniasis.
“132 degrees
“Wearing long sleeves, full pants and combat boots in 132 degrees.
“Sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat ... like wrists, and ears.”

Tank Cmdr. Neil Prakash talks about the humor in fear:

“OK … so some guy has you in his sights and he’s trying to kill you. And he hasn’t yet. But the bullets are coming damn close. And you don’t know where he is. So that’s funny. And for some reason, any time you come real close to death, but live ... that’s just absurdly funny.”

And finally, Lt. Col Michael Strobl writes of his duty in accompanying the body of Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown in Wyoming for internment. This is such a well-written, moving piece that it feels like a violation to present just a piece of it.

And if I have a quibble in the presentation of the book it is that this should have opened it, rather than closed it. It’s so moving that it’s hard to respond to when you’ve finished, and in a way I’d have rather gone from this story to one that introduces me to the living Chance and his buddies and peers than the other way around.

While it is an obvious thing to do to honor our dead soldiers, the joy of a book like this — and of the milblogs it gives a snapshot of — is to introduce you to very real words of our living ones. They are a very real manifestation of Whitman:

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear. …”

Fewer and fewer Americans know soldiers as the tradition of military service slips into history. Buy the book, meet some, and listen to them.

Marc Danziger is a member of The Washington Examiner Blog Board of Contributors and blogs at


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