Friday, February 04, 2005

Sunday's Atlanta Journal Constitution

Urgency hits like never before as soldiers fight, then write
Teresa K. Weaver - Staff

WAR IS A STORY that never gets old.

Told from every possible perspective --- by the triumphant, by the vanquished or by the merely observant --- wartime feats of heroism and acts of inhumanity have captured the imagination of every generation, long before and since the greatest.

The war on terrorism is unique in one immediate respect: Soldiers --- mostly 20-somethings --- are telling their own stories, in profound, profane books that are hitting the shelves within months of their return from what passes nowadays as the front line.

Colby Buzzell, a 26-year-old skateboarding, pot-smoking California slacker who joined the Army in an effort to find some purpose, offers one of the most effective counterpoints to officialdom in his popular blog-turned-book, "My War: Killing Time in Iraq." In one particularly gripping section subtitled "Men in Black," he provides a three-paragraph account from CNN's Web site about a "clash" between American troops and Iraqi insurgents in Mosul.

"Now," Buzzell writes, "here's what really happened. ..."

His account is dramatic and confused --- presumably much like combat itself --- told with irresistible gallows humor and anger devoid of self-consciousness.

"It kinda made me wonder what else goes on here in Iraq that never gets reported to the people back home," he writes.

During its 10-week run, Buzzell's Web site attracted some 10,000 hits a day and got the attention of mainstream media. The fledgling blogger was "counseled" several times by officers, but his blog was never officially shut down or censored.

The age of instant communication has changed the writing landscape for good. Other factors also may help explain the new bounty of books by soldiers: The military is more educated, and every generation since the baby boomers seems more and more comfortable expressing itself.

When Buzzell's two years of service were up, he felt the first twinge of the difficult transition to come: "When I turned over my weapon, and for the first time in almost eleven months I was without a firearm by my side, I felt completely defenseless and vulnerable. It was the weirdest [expletive] feeling in the world."