Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Blog of War

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 25, 2009

Immediately the middle vehicle was hit by an RPG knocking the gunner unconscious from his turret and down into the vehicle. The Vehicle Commander, the squad’s leader, though the gunner was dead, but tried to treat him from inside the vehicle. Simultaneously, the rear vehicle’s driver and TC, section leader two, open their doors and dismount to fight, while their gunner continued firing from his position in the gun platform on top of the Hummer.

Great collection of Iraq and Afghanistan-related milblog posts. The Blog of War covers every war from the perspective of the individuals who take part: friends, spouses, and the soldiers themselves.

RecommendationPurchase Now!
Length291 pages
Book Rating8

I tweeted over a month ago that I’m reading Matt Burden’s The Blog of War, and to expect a review later. This is not a book that can be read in one go. Each selection is important; many are draining.

Among the most critical aspects of the history of war is the role of the gatekeepers. Who reports on war and where do they get their information? Our post 9/11 wars—Afghanistan and Iraq—are a new chapter in that history. For those who cared to learn, the story of these wars was and is available from citizen journalists (Michael Yon and Michael J. Totten), locals (Iraq the Model) and the soldiers fighting the war.

Matt Burden’s book is about the latter group, specifically the “milbloggers” who reported simply by being there and writing home; but writing home in public places. Burden has collected a phenomenal array of blog posts, mostly from Iraq- and Afghanistan-stationed milbloggers, describing the personal experience of war as it happens. It also contains blog posts from their spouses and their friends.

These are people writing letters—public letters, private letters in public places—before going to war. “Some must go to fight the dragons.” In other wars, these are the stories that someone like David Brinkley would relate fifty years later, pulled from dusty letters left in attics. In this war—assuming you didn’t limit yourself to the New York Times—we read them almost as they happened.

Jay Czarga wrote a letter to his family on the occasion of his third trip to Iraq, and posted it for the world on his blog, The Makaha Surf Report:

I chose to go back to Iraq this time, because I believe in a better world. At 30 I am more of an idealist now than I was at 20… The men and women and especially the children of Iraq are worth fighting for. When I see them I know that any sacrifice I make is worth it.

Czarga, according to the fear-alleviating (and sometimes confirming) appendix, is back in Hawaii “with his dolphin-trainer wife, four dogs, and one very demented cat.”

This chapter’s title comes from a line in a post by “Greyhawk” in The Mudville Gazette:

I awoke in the quiet watches with my youngest in my arms, wondering what I might say to her and her brother and sister and their mom and knowing I was done with sleeping for this night.

Here is why: Some must go to fight the Dragons.

And if you think such things don’t exist then it must be I read you the wrong sorts of stories when you were young.

While these more measured posts are the ones that will stick with you long after you read them, it is probably the action that will convince you to buy this book. Sergeant Nicholas Popaditch’s account of the fighting in Fallujah from Blackfive is one of the most action-packed (and longest). It reads like a scene from Black Hawk Down.

Popaditch’s account is followed directly by retired Lieutenant Colonel John Donovan’s analysis of an after-action review of an ambush; Donovan emphasizes the importance of discipline in everything down to how vehicles are packed. At one point a sergeant runs low on ammo; she goes to another vehicle and blindly reaches in to get more, knowing that the vehicle was packed just like hers was and so knowing exactly where the ammo would be.

But the draining posts aren’t just about people going to war, nor about people fighting war, but also sometimes about soldiers coming back from war. Carla Meyer Lois blogged about her experience as a mom on Some Soldier’s Mom, after she received word that her son had “a serious spine injury”. She describes not only dealing with the news herself, but of notifying his close circle of friends.

A lot of them are writers, which bodes well for the future of letters. I hope that some of them who aren’t continue writing, too, and that their writings are not lost as servers and blogs fall into disuse. Because these are some great essays. If you are at all interested in the thoughts and feelings of some of the people fighting the war on the ground, I strongly recommend this collection.

Matt Burden is running for State Representative in Illinois; if you’re in the 41st district, make sure you get out to vote!

The Blog of War

Recommendation: Purchase Now!