Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Winner of the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize

Overall Winner and Non-Fiction Winner
My War: Killing Time In Iraq by Colby Buzzell


Iraq veteran wins blog prize as US military cuts web access

Ed Pilkington in New York
Tuesday May 15, 2007


· Literary award for former soldier's online dispatches
· Critics brand Pentagon's new rules 'self-defeating'

The timing of the award is almost as striking as the writing which it honours. A former American machine gunner's memoir of a year's tour of duty in Iraq based on his blog has just won a major accolade at precisely the moment when the US military high command is clamping down on blogs among the rank and file.
Colby Buzzell was awarded the £5,000 Lulu Blooker prize for My War: Killing Time in Iraq, which was voted the best book of the year based on a blog. It triumphed over 110 entries from 15 countries.

The memoir was drawn from a blog he kept while in Mosul, in northern Iraq, in 2004, in which he portrayed the texture of daily life there, from listening to Metallica on his iPod to watching his fellow "grunts" surf the web for pornography.

The paradox of Buzzell's victory is that it quickly follows the revelation that the Pentagon has introduced new rules restricting blogs among soldiers, fuelling speculation that live and unadorned combat writing from the field such as Buzzell's may be the last of its kind.

The new rules require all would-be "milbloggers", as soldier-publishers are called, to submit blog entries to supervising officers before posting them. That turns on its head the existing rules which allowed soldiers to post freely, with the onus on them to register their blogs and to alert officers to any material that might compromise security.

Yesterday the defence department went further and announced it was blocking access "worldwide" to 13 communal websites, including YouTube and MySpace from military computers and networks. General BB Bell said the move was to protect operations from the drain on computer capacity caused by soldiers downloading videos on these sites.

But prominent military bloggers said this was another move by commanders to try and regain control over ue of the internet. Matthew Burden, a former major in the US army who runs the most popular milblog, Blackfive, with 3 million unique users a year, said he had been contacted by several serving soldiers who said they were going to stop posting. "They are all putting their hands in the air and saying, 'That's it, I've had enough.'"

He said the rules were self-defeating and would deter blogs such as acutepolitics@blogspot.com, which is written by a specialist who defuses roadside bombs. "Take that down and you are removing one of the most positive messages for what the army is doing in Iraq," Mr Burden said.

Mr Buzzell, now 30, was sent to Iraq in November 2003. He had joined the army at a time, he said, when "I was living off Top Ramen [pot noodles] in a suburb of San Francisco and my life was going nowhere". He discovered blogging by reading a Time article while in Iraq, and started posting eight months into his tour.

He rapidly built up a huge following and was profiled in the media. After six weeks an order came down that his blog should be stopped, without any explanation; but by then he already had 10 different publishers clamouring after him.

Buzzell said the new restrictions would hurt combat soldiers and their families. "It's hard for them out there, and this will make it harder. It will lower soldier morale for troops who are on their second or even third tour." He also regrets the tightening grip over blogging on a personal level because without it, he said, he would now be "washing dishes in a restaurant somewhere, back to eating Top Ramen".

As it is, his book has been translated into seven languages, and he has embarked on a freelance writing career for Esquire magazine, among others. "This is a totally screwed up policy," he said. "The commanders are just really nervous because they can't keep control any more."

· Biography: Colby Buzzell

Age: 30

From: now lives in San Francisco

Hobbies: skateboarding and hard rock

Job: machine gunner turned author

Started blogging because: 'It sounded like a good way for me to kill some time out here in Iraq, post a little diary stuff, maybe some rants, links to some cool shit, thoughts, experiences, garbage, crap, whatever.'

Literary idols: Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S Thompson

Favourite sounds before a mission: the Cure, the Smiths "and a little bit of the old school U2"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

U.S. soldier's blog offers firsthand look at war in Iraq from the

BYLINE: John Jerney, Special to The Daily Yomiuri, Yomiuri
The Daily Yomiuri(Tokyo)

On Aug. 4, 2004, downtown Mosul, Iraq, exploded with violence. U.S. Army Specialist Colby Buzzell, an M240 Bravo machine gunner in the Stryker Brigade, was among the men called to respond.

Buzzell and his fellow soldiers were aware of the risks as they rolled out of Forward Operating Base Marez. By mid-2004, the Iraqi insurgency was already well under way.

Sniper and mortar attacks were commonplace and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had transformed one-time routine patrols into life-and-death missions.

But with the entire battalion called to roll out, Buzzell sensed that something was up.

For the next several hours, Buzzell found himself in the crosshairs of a massive, all-day firefight combating masked men-in-black equipped with a plethora of weapons ranging from AK-47s and mortars, to IEDs and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Recounting the event later, Buzzell would write that he had never experienced fear as he did that day. The next morning, searching for news about the event on the Web, Buzzell found a scant few paragraphs on the CNN Web site under the heading "Mosul Clashes Leave 12 Dead."

Buzzell instinctively logged into his blog, cut-and-paste the CNN article, and began recounting his own version of the events of that day, starting with the sentence "Now here's what really happened?"

In posting to his blog, Buzzell was just doing something that millions of others had already been engaged in for years: telling his personal story to the online world.

But Buzzell's blog, one of the first and most popular run by a soldier in active combat, raised at least three significant issues. First, who should report the news during a war when the reporters have all gone home? Second, how are we to judge the veracity and accuracy of news reports prepared by individuals not formally bound to a code of ethics?

And third, what free speech rights are guaranteed to nonprofessional journalists, especially those that may have a conflict of interest in the subject about which they are reporting?

Buzzell is a good-natured person, conscientious and quick to laugh. Sitting across the table from me as we chatted over lunch at a Thai restaurant in San Francisco's Tenderloin district not far from his apartment, Buzzell simultaneously projected shyness and incredible intensity, even through his dark sunglasses.

Talking to Buzzell, you learn several things quickly. He's extremely bright and uncommonly well read--quotes and literal references are within easy reach for him. But when it comes to talking about the war, his feelings
sometimes overrun his thoughts. His best form of expression is undoubtedly the written word.

Which is why his 2004 blog from the front lines in Iraq drew so much attention. Written without an overt political point of view, Buzzell started the blog, entitled simply enough My War, during his eighth month of deployment in Iraq to share his experiences and get his story recorded.

Buzzell recounted, "When I first got to Iraq, I kept a journal and I would write about what I was seeing and experiencing. Then, I saw a brief article in Time magazine about blogs. At that time, I had never heard the word blog before. And I was like, what the heck is this? So I read the article and it described how everyday people with no real journalism experience were
writing about their experiences on the Internet."

Buzzell continued, "There was also a brief mention in the article about soldiers in Iraq doing these things. I said, whoa, no way, that can't be possible. There's no way that the military would allow soldiers to write about what's going on and to post these entries on the World Wide Web for anybody to read."

Buzzell rushed to the Internet cafe on base, and searched for blogs by soldiers. He found that some did exist, as the Time article had mentioned, but as Buzzell explained, "I didn't see any blogs that were written by soldiers in combat arms, soldiers that went out actively on combat missions on a daily basis."

Buzzell noticed that most of the blogs seemed to be written by soldiers who stayed on base all day. "That's fine," noted Buzzell, "but a person that leaves the base might have a different perspective on what's going on out there. So I don't know why, I just said the hell with it, I'm going to do it."

Buzzell set about to write down exactly what he saw, to capture the kind of experiences that used to be recorded during previous wars, such as Vietnam, when reporters stayed with the troops throughout their deployment and

"At the beginning of the war," Buzzell explained, "there were embedded reporters. But I was there during the second year of the war and all these embeds and reporters were gone, they were back home."

Buzzell continued, "So I just decided to write about what I was seeing. And then, I don't know, it just sort of took on a life of its own."

At first, only a few emails arrived each day. That quickly turned into a dozen, then two and three dozen, and then hundreds of emails per day.

"And the comments just kept coming," recalled Buzzell. "It felt good because honestly I never once got anything negative in an email. Most of it was thanks, none of us really know what's going on over there and you're telling
your story. Thank you."

Posting under the anonymous name CBFTW, Buzzell kept writing his reports in between missions, giving his growing number of readers a behind-the-scenes look at the war in a way that many weren't used to seeing.

Buzzell soon attracted the attention of Esquire, and subsequently turned some of his experiences into articles for the magazine. More importantly, Buzzell used his blog entries as the foundation for perhaps the most highly
acclaimed book about the Iraq war written by a soldier, "My War: Killing Time in Iraq," winner of the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize.

In the next edition of my column, I'll describe the military's reaction to Buzzell's blog, and comment on the relevance of soldiers' blogs and the role that non-journalists can play in disseminating information otherwise bypassed by conventional sources.