In Which They’re A Soldier

Back From the War

by Alex Carnevale

There was a brief shudder last week as the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq passed 4,000, as if that were a large number. It’s not.

Modern warfare takes the lives of so many less people, and while this is no doubt a fortunate evolution of warfare, it leaves a lot more veterans alive to enjoy the pleasures of returning to civilian life.

The left and right are in a constant struggle to decide who is really honoring our troops. Say something bad about the military, and you’re defaming our troops – heck, say something bad about the war at all and you’re not helping the men and the women in the field. The only people really going over the line seem to be the folks at The Nation, who actively rejoice in despotism and probably have pro-Kim Jong Il bumper stickers on their cars.

In Vietnam this situation came to a serious cataclysm. Veterans were not treated with the respect and dignity they deserved. After all, it wasn’t their war.

In other civilizations, a standing army hasn’t historically been rewarded with as much trust. In our country, the military may have a political agenda, but both sides cater to the military, and in this country it’s never approached a political party in and of itself.

“The Ongoing Horrible” – Maps & Atlases (mp3)

Our military is the finest of its kind in history. The breathtaking speed with which it overwhelmed the Ba’athist forces was largely taken for granted by both sides of the aisle. It was an extraordinary display, and if the aftermath hasn’t been handled nearly as successfully…well, it couldn’t have been.

“Go to Hell” – David Ford (mp3)

winning the 2006 pulitzer prize in photography

While Iraq isn’t stable as of yet, there’s much hope that despite that instability, the iraqi people may yet create a pseudo-democratic government, the finest of its kind among the Arab nations. It is already freer than most of its cowardly cousins, who have set a low bar.

The first wave of Iraqi veterans have returned home, and the new canvas of warfare has, needless to say, not been kind to them.

explaining hearing loss

War has become a strange new battlefield of public relations. Both Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Islamic insurgencies have their own website. Web 2.0 will defeat terrorist insurgencies quicker than armies, or so the saying goes.

“Christmastime” – Noah and the Whale (mp3)

Then of course you have a number of soldier blogs, most of which are depressing monotone reports interrupted by briefs moments of insanity. I enjoy our civilian population being surprised by what happens in the theater: come on, it’s war, it’s not fun and games.

Here are soldier blogs I enjoy, not just from Iraq.

The Unlikely Soldier

Jim’s All Expenses Paid Trip to Kosovo

Chaotic Synaptic Activity

Winter Soldier the film

Official Website of the Multinational Force


The Stupid Shall Be Punished

scanning coffins

Air Force Pundit

A Soldier’s Perspective

War Is Real


further list of warblogs

Steven Bochco took a shot at this madness with his FX series Over There, but it was a little too soon. War films have gotten a lot better at making war appear ugly rather than fun in recent years, and the new HBO miniseries from a few of The Wire people Generation Kill is set to prove that point. I wonder if it won’t all be evident the only thing that makes sense in such a strange canvas is military rule.

Supposedly it’s the bureaucracy that gets the short end of the stick in this portrayal:

Essence of the project, according to net, is how elite members of the Marine Corps confront the military bureaucracy in the midst of a war.

David Simon was paired with the project because, similarly, “The Wire” focused on cops and civil servants and how they deal with the Baltimore city bureaucracy in the face of gang warfare.

Tome also focuses on how today’s military personnel differ from their WWII and Vietnam forebears. Wright wrote that Marines are “on more intimate terms with videogames, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own parents.”


shooting generation kill

The image from the preview, one that the military loves to include, are American soldiers playing soccer with Iraqis. This personifies a desirable view of the miltary presence – that our forces are benevolent and willing to play along. While I don’t doubt the former premise, the whole thing is doubtless more photo op than reality.

buy the book here

The United States military is a fine organization, and our peacekeeping mission isn’t entirely an undesirable one. Usually a war helps the economy, but as ours is in the dumpster, it seems like educated people are still joining up voluntarily. And why shouldn’t they? The majority of employment opportunities for recent college grads are more vapid than combat is tragic. Well, almost.

There’s a big difference between wanting to be a part of something, and actually taking part in it. Pulling out entirely is in all likelihood way worse for the Iraqi people than a slower transition. Still we want these men and women out of danger.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

iraqi boy doing a frank calliendo level impression


Samantha Power in Triple Canopy

A more sober assessment


Don’t Worry About Iraq: Victor Davis Hanson

The delicate successes in Iraq

whether to execute Saddam’s aides together or apart

L. Paul Bremer admits mistakes

Reading Vonnegut in Iraq

the war on gays in iraq


Clinton’s Iraq vote five years later

McCain heads over there to shake hands

Bedbugs attack Fox News

Generation Kill producer talks to Reason

Tom Tomorrow keeps going on

Faces of the Dead

our senior contributor shaking some hands

Richard Perle and the left wanted a quick pullout, what a shock

The Nation tackles the economic consequences

Candidate positions on Iraq

Hot military photosets: dusty and rusty, by air and by sea

Jon Stewart standup in 1996


WFB on why the war failed

Chuck Hagel on the war

Hitchens on what would have happened if we didn’t stick around


Gary Snyder and Han-shan

Beck Hansen and Peter Walker

Andrew Zornoza and Alex Rose.

5 thoughts on “In Which They’re A Soldier

  1. I’m always a little wary when I find a piece here concerning current events and/or politics. For all the insightful and critical analysis of culture, literature, and other mediums on this site–all, greatly appreciated, there seems to be a lack of like analysis when it comes to political issues. The Iraq War should first and foremost be lamented as a gross and brutal political disaster by its architects. 4000 dead Americans is, in itself, tragic. That it may not be a “large number” is a relative conclusion. Small compared to what, the nearly 500,000 innocent Iraqi civilians slaughtered as a direct result of our country’s unwarranted invasion? Soldiers should not bear the moral burden rightly placed on our inept leaders (though the same cannot be said for those who put them in power). Yet this need not extend to uncritical praise of our military power. Might we, employing a similar critical lens, question the value of this institution as a whole, of the entire military-industrial complex whose rhetoric fuels the ubiquitous bumper stickers declaring “support the troops.” Support, yes, but for what? For war? Better to support their return to their homes, families, and communities; the end of back-draft policies and relative economic advantage cloaked in a veil of patriotism. Five years gone. A somber day.

  2. Thanks for the link. Not having previously seen your blog, this looks like a long list of readings from both sides of the issue of the current conflict. Certainly balance is not a virtue many do not appreciate, for we all can learn something everywhere.

    I am struck by mark’s comment above, where the actual math required to be able to have killed the number of Iraqis mentioned would require daily, large scale killing, and even the MSM has not reported such events daily. Lots of fictitious info is flying about the web, intermingled with truth, and too many are hastily accepting data as fact, when it does require greater inspection before repeating.

    Do I know it all? No. What I know is history is made today, but not known until much later. I have even experienced that on my own blog, in just telling my remembrances and then having others who had been there add their perspective, which made a more full featured picture for me, bringing in detail I was unaware of.

    To add to the reading list, these two book paired made me really think many years ago about what happens in real life: “Our Own Worst Enemy” by Wm Lederer followed by stumbling across “A Viet Cong Memoir” by the former VC Minister of Justice. In reading those, a view of the Vietnam War, from both sides took shape to replace the one I knew, growing up surrounded by Green Berets on Okinawa and later sailors and Marines on Guam during my school years and during the war. I would recommend Lederer’s book, even today, for he pointed out we lacked the understanding of the history, culture and language of Vietnam/SE Asia, and that led to many erroneous decisions. To put some icing on the cake, it was published in 1968. Given the information on the life an journey of the VC Justice Minister, it turned out that Lederer’s speculations were exceptionally close to reality. There are lessons to be learned for us, given that track record of his credible insight.

    Somewhere on my blog, I have discussed these two books in greater depth, and tied them to some of the military and political issues of the GWoT.

    As far as the war as it is, there are many things that are the same as all wars before, and some new things, but, not as much as we think. Faster communications, more broadly reaching avenues, along with the “everyone can post their opinion” aspects are here to stay and before long, I suspect to be displayed in our contact lens heads up displays while we go about our daily business via surrounding wireless.

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