The first link on my list of other blogs is Jason Van Steenwyk's Iraqnow blog. Jason is an Army officer serving in Iraq around Ramadi. Unlike most of the military bloggers, Jason is an excellent writer with a degree in literature and an engaging mind. His blog is enormously valuable because it gives us a picture of what life on the ground is like for the troops serving there. The best thing about his blog, in my view, is that he's not afraid to tell the truth about what's going on, for good or for ill. He has taken the media to task, and rightfully so, for getting a great many things wrong in their reporting, from the relatively mundane (not understanding the difference between a "soldier" and a "marine") to ignoring an important part of the story in Iraq (not reporting on the enormous amount of work our troops have done and are continuing to do in Iraq - rebuilding schools and hospitals, delivering school supplies, delivering soccer balls and medical supplies, even renovating mosques). He has also rightfully criticized the military for some of the inexcusable lapses in preparation that have taken place - lack of body armor for the troops, lack of armor to harden light infantry vehicles, the issuing of the highly ineffective M-16 for an urban guerilla fight where it's not appropriate.
In short, this is one of the best blogs you can read and I think Jason is doing a great public service to those of us who have never experienced war. The truth is that I am about as removed from an understanding of the real day to day situation of a soldier as I am from understanding how Bill Gates lives his life. But Jason has brought that reality home to me and to many others by giving us blow by blow accounts of situations that his unit has faced. His stories - of mortar attacks on his unit and the resulting sweep of the compound to insure that all his men were safe; of having to decide whether to authorize the firing of a warning shot in a potentially volatile situation that could have turned ugly; of dealing with soldiers under his command hating Jessica Lynch for getting so much publicity and dealing with their feelings; of trying to encourage his men to view and interact with the Iraqi people with more understanding and humanity - have given me an understanding of the situation that no number of dry news stories written from inside the safety of the Green Zone by reporters who are too busy sipping martinis on their expense accounts could have given me.
And then along comes this letter. He receives a lot of e-mail, and the popularity of his blog has grown enormously. I can tell you from e-mails that I have exchanged with him myself that he appreciates that people are benefiting from his writing. This morning he published a couple of those letters, including this one from someone who just doesn't get it:
I guess I just can't imagine the Secretary of Defense condoning these anti-US statements by a Military officer on active duty. The practice in the past was for Officers to shut up and conform or resign before they started bitching about their country. I've written to Secretary Rumsfeld, and I have also asked Congressman Pete Sessions , and Senators Cornyn and Hutchinson for an inquiry.
This is a mindset I simply am not capable of understanding. The existence of people this deluded and simpleminded is what feeds my cynicism about humanity as a whole. How any sane human being can read Jason's blog and interpret anything therein as "anti-US" is simply astonishing to me. Is this writer from Dallas really so devoid of sense that he does not realize that in helping people like me understand what our troops are going through, good and bad, he is doing an enormous service to the military? He presents a public face of the soldier as a bright, educated, caring young man doing his level best to serve his country, the men and women under his command, and yes, the people of Iraq as well. Jason laughs off the letter with grace, but I'm completely appalled by it and by the mindset that it represents, especially in former military men (I think it's a safe assumption that the letter writer is a vet - regardless, his attitude is found far too often in vets).
Is it "anti-US" to say that every single one of our soldiers should have the best body armor available before they go into a war zone? Is it "anti-US" to point out that the M-16 is the wrong kind of weapon for this sort of conflict? Is it "anti-US" to tell the truth that the military procurement system is so hidebound and inefficent that our men and women are left driving around in humvees with flak vests strapped to the outside of the vehicle because the pentagon didn't make sure they were hardened with external armor to withstand attacks and protect the troops inside? This is the reality of war, folks. This is exactly the sort of thing that the people need to know about, exactly the sort of thing that the paper-pushers in Washington need to have thrown in their face on a daily basis. What galls me most about this letter is that it's a virtual certainty that the halfwit who wrote it is also one of those people who hammers anyone who dares to question the government about the war for not "supporting the troops", yet here he is demanding silence from a military man - and playing juvenile "I'm gonna tell the teacher" games to boot - regarding problems due to which far too many of those troops he claims to support will lose their lives. It's braindead people like this letter writer who are the real anti-Americans.