|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 Their work is not unimportant and I applaud their efforts at recreating an outdated and bureaucratic institution into a more modern and dedicated response team committed to informing and helping the veteran transition.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?
What am I to make of this blank, digital page?