Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Niche?

by 13Stoploss
Mattingly! Cut those sideburns!

When I stare at this blank digital page, I imagine an unwritten story—a story told as great or greater than Herr and O’Brien and Krakauer and Talese and Chivers, but with a little bit of Gonzo and Palahniuk thrown in—that changes the way Americans look at military writing. More so, I want to change the way the enlisted military looks at military writing.
For the most part, great military nonfiction does not come from the enlisted ranks. Most of the good military works are written by retired or separated commissioned officers, men and women who are college educated, who learned how to write, and who are, for the most part, much older and more skilled than their enlisted counterparts.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a new generation of dropouts, criminals, and underachievers can finally level the playing field. But who do the unskilled enlisted have for inspiration? Who among the ranks have truly made it?
Sure, O’Brien enlisted, but he was educated before being drafted. After two years in Vietnam, he went on to grad school at Harvard and then a stint at The Washington Post. That’s an amazing story, but it isn’t something that Private Podunk Phillips can relate to.
There are many uneducated and non-literary hacks parading as patriotic milblog populists, but it doesn’t take much to discredit the FOX News redneck revolution as ignorant folly. The nature of their work is neither transformative nor literate.
CB seems to have done alright and has certainly achieved a level of success I can only dream of. He wasn’t the first, but he was the first of my generation to get attention. And while his stuff is interesting, is he more a product of time and place than talent or drive?
Lastly, I value and am envious of a couple others who have recently achieved attention and careers in government. Their work is not unimportant and I applaud their efforts at recreating an outdated and bureaucratic institution into a more modern and dedicated response team committed to informing and helping the veteran transition.
My brief list of enlisted writers is not all-inclusive and I welcome relevant submissions for consideration. But still, I cannot get over the notion that there are no modern influential works of enlisted literary nonfiction.
As great as they were, are the CB’s and Dude’s our only enlisted voice? Who will carry on and advance the Joe cause, in a professional and literate manner? Can RK step it up? What about Joe Fobbit? Or BT? Where the hell is BT?
Can I?
What am I to make of this blank, digital page?


The Constitutional Insurgent said...

I've often thought the same way about writers of military experience.

There are some seminal works out there, and many of them make professional reading lists, but the ones where the life of the average Infantryman [of today's age] are few and far between.....at least books of any note.

louisa said...

Jarhead by Anthony Swofford from the gulf war?

13 Stoploss said...

Yes, Swofford is exactly the kind of writer I mean.

Desert Crone said...

I agree about CB & Dude and also loved Suspect, Toy Soldier and you. Also, Kate Hoit's work - and Old Blue is still blogging from Afghanistan. CJ and MY were musts-reads until their writing took aim at each other. Navy guy DC McPhee, and Charles Marlow's "Postcards From the Front" blog (my fav - "Dear Santa"). And of course there's Brandon Friedman, "The War I Always Wanted," but I don't know about his education. Sgt Bellavia's book is still my favorite but he apparently had help with that.

A note: she's not in your category but I never miss Leslie at "Mended Wings" as she blogs about Kevin's recovery after surviving a vbied in Afghanistan, now closing in on the three year mark and approaching yet another surgery.

Anonymous said...

You, Suspect, Brian Turner (is that BT?) Acute Politics, Red2Alpha
of "This is Your War", Buck Sargeant, Dreadcow.

You all are compelling writers with unique voices.

For me, a great writer touches the nerve of commonallity. Great first-person writers--as you all are-- risk transparency to share honest feelings and experiences while telling a story about the human condition. Your setting is war but you are all telling the common human story of grief and loss and death and fear and testing and courage.

I've never been to war. It has taken me 55 years to gain intimate aquaintance with those refining experiences. In your lives, war has taken 55 years of living and stuffed it through a keyhole.

You have plenty to say and a need to say it. I hope you will keep with it.


Anonymous said...

I miss Pink. Her story about having guard duty with a soldier that threatened to kill her crossed a lot of boundaries.
I think she's a much better writer than she gives herself credit for. When I read her blog, I felt like I was hearing the story no one will tell.
Her blog disappeared along with other good blogs.

I have personally been highly impressed by the quality of writing/communication coming out of this war. There was nothing like it coming from the ground in Vietnam. We had some wonderful reporters, but nothing like this from the ground! We didn't have the technology, of course, but I think this generation wins hands down on communication skills.

If you're not seeing what you want, give it time. Stuff takes a while to cook. z