Archive | January, 2014

Weekly Round-Up: Technology Edition


Don’t be this person.

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Technology” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

There has always been a tension between those who see technology as progress and those who see it as a threat. After decades of rapid technological advancement, we can easily argue that our soldiers are now far more capable and our information is far more readily available than ever before. And yet, paradoxically, with such increased access to information the core of culture – art, literature, classical music – has been overshadowed by, or even forgotten because of, modern machinery and advanced technology. 

Often, I wonder how I ever lived without my modern tech devices, but I also wonder if these things are actually doing anything to improve my life, or the lives of others. Rather than experience the world for what it is, many of us attempt to document each second of it on our four-inch screens.

In honor of this fundamental tension between technological progress and a desire to preserve the good ole’ days, I present the following links from the week.

Here we go.

  1. I bet he didnt have an iPhone. A Japanese army officer who hid in the jungles of the Philippines fighting World War II until 1974 has died at the age of 91.
  2. Advance! In an article for Foreign Policy, Peter Singer and Allan Friedman compare the logic of a first-strike advantage in cyber war to the misguided belief in offensive advantage prior to World War I.
  3. You wont believe what happens next. What if classic book titles were rewritten to be like Upworthy headlines and optimized to get the most clicks?
  4. Advance? The Awl wonders when machines will really be able to predict bestsellers.
  5. Speaking of machines. Facing tighter budget constraints, the Army is considering replacing thousands of soldiers with robots.
  6. But war is still human. Marine Corps veteran Eliot Ackerman’s fascinating piece in The Daily Beast about his lunch with a jihadi fighter in a Syrian refugee camp.
  7. And hard to let go. A New York Times article looks at how the Army is adapting to garrison life as the war in Afghanistan continues to draw down.

Have a great weekend.




Weekly Round-Up: The Wise Family

Wise Brothers

The Wise Brothers

Photo Credit: Washington Post

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “The Wise Family” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.


We watched “The Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne/…And I thought about that movie, asked if it was that way/ He just shook his head and smiled at me in such a loving way/As he thought about some friends he will never see again/He said ‘I never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima’ – “Sands of Iwo Jima,” Drive By Truckers


On December 30th, 2009, I was in a hotel room in San Francisco watching CNN when news of a bombing in Afghanistan ticked across the screen. A few weeks passed before I learned that a good friend from the Navy, Jeremy Wise, had been killed along with several others by a suicide bomber during a CIA operation in northern Afghanistan.

It has been several years since Jeremy died, and in that time Jeremy’s brother Ben tragically died from wounds sustained during combat in Afghanistan. Since then, I have tried desperately to make sense of it all, as well as to understand the weight of the absolute grief that has accompanied it. I mourn deeply for his family, as I do for the families of all those who have given their lives in service of our nation.

Even though I have sat with my feelings for some time, most days I don’t feel closer to knowing how I feel. It is not only in those final moments of his tragic death that have I been so lost, but also in the untold moments of his courageous life that we will never know. The life left un-lived is where the heaviness of my grief begins to feel most burdensome.

The past few weeks have stirred many emotions in the veteran community. The media has focused greatly on the fall of Fallujah, the release of the memoir by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as well as the premiere of Lone Survivor. Wrapped up in all of this, it seems, have been naïve questions and assertions about whether the staggering loss of military and civilian lives and the destabilization of Iraq’s security somehow serve as evidence that these wars were a colossal mistake. I don’t know if any of that is true.

What I do know to be true is whenever I think of these wars, I think of men like Jeremy and I remember their courage. It is from their courage that I draw my lessons. The willingness to lay down one’s own life so that others might live is all I have every really learned –and probably all that I will every truly know – about war. And, for me, that is enough.

I dedicate this week’s round-up to the memory and courage of Jeremy Wise, Ben Wise, Sean Carson, and to all those who have died in service of our Nation since 9/11. Fair winds and following seas.

Here we go.

1. From the Washington Post comes a difficult but necessary story on the sacrifice of my fallen friend and his family: “One family, two sacrifices: In war, Wise family would pay an awful price

2. Elliot Ackerman, Silver Star recipient and writer, explores the question of whether or not the battles in Iraq were worth it for the New Republic.

3. Gregory D. Johnson examines the national security implications of the ‘Authorization for the Use of Military Force‘ has had for the United States since 9/11 in BuzzFeed.

4. This story, originally published in May 2013, is a disturbing look at a troubled vet turned bank robber. It’s worth revisiting and another example of BuzzFeed‘s quality journalism. 

5. From the Daily Beast come an essay by Benjamin Busch, veteran, actor and author, and his take on the difference between the facts and fiction in the movie, Lone Survivor.

6. Lea Carpenter reviews Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp for the New York Times.

7. The ‘most interesting man in the world’ is turning his attention to land mine removal, according to this article in The Boston Globe.

Bonus Link: Check out Words After War writing instructor Matt Gallagher discussing Iraq on CBS.

Enjoy the long weekend.


Guest Post: “Mandatory Fun” by John Ready


The beatings will continue until morale improves.
-Standard Operating Procedure in most US Army units

So we’re sitting on our asses in Camp Doha, waiting impatiently for the word to get on a plane to go back to The World. By this time, I’m completely disenchanted with our brigade staff who’ve tagged along on the long haul from Baghdad to Kuwait City. These people can’t get out of their own way.

About three days after we arrive in Kuwait, someone in the Supply Section realizes they are missing approximately $725,000 worth of equipment. Most of the missing items are secure communications radios. Now, maybe they aren’t actually missing, but each piece of equipment in the military is supposed to be present; if not, then there had better be a piece of paper documenting its location or status. These bozos have neither. After that 360 mile drive south from Baghdad, after all that bullshit, the Headquarters Company Commander, who is personally responsible for the gear, has to go ALL the way back to Baghdad to locate the stuff. This is no simple task; it isn’t like turning around on your way to work to check if you’ve turned off the iron. Southern Iraq was now No Man’s Land, The Great Unknown; insurgents were sowing IEDs like dandelions all along MSR Tampa.

The new commander, Colonel Buzzkill, is irate about this and other incidents that have happened since he has taken command two months ago. His staff is clearly not working together. By now, he’s probably thinking a deployment under his belt and a Bronze Star on his chest may not be worth all of this horseshit. He comes up with a plan to build unit cohesion.

Colonel Buzzkill drops the bombshell that there is no camaraderie amongst his officers. So, he orders us to participate in a volleyball tournament. Now, my first reaction, besides shock, is that if you’re not able to build camaraderie and unit cohesion during 10 months in a combat zone, I really don’t think organized sports will fit the bill. But, of course, I’m a team player, so I figure that it will help pass the time before we finally get on the Freedom Bird.

I’m in the first match of the Mandatory Fun Invitational. I’m also the first to serve. I suck at volleyball; absolutely horrid at organized sports as a whole. The only thing in volleyball I don’t suck at is serving. The first couple of times I serve the ball, it actually makes it over the net, surprising everyone, including me.

Our team begins to practice and it’s painful to watch. Colonel Quickdraw is on my team and he’s positioned right in front of me. Even with his thick Birth Control Glasses, he’s blind as a bat. He’s also less athletic than me. The entire time we’re practicing, he’s never quite able to keep his eye on the ball. No matter where the ball goes, Quickdraw is out of synch; it’s like watching a tape delay inside a tape. He just keeps whirling around in his own little game. It’s then that I decide Quickdraw invented disco.

The first match: oh how exciting! I wind up and hit the ball over the net. To my dismay, it goes right to the bodybuilder, Adonis. He spikes-no-he launches the ball upward. It hits the gym ceiling with an audible WHAP! and streaks down toward me. I put my hands together to spike it in self-defense, but I’m just a little bit too slow. The volleyball hits my left thumb at full force.

Shit. That hurt.

My thumb smarts, my hand is numb, and my arm begins twitching of its own accord, but the match must go on. Now, I’m not even playing; I’m in a defensive posture, trying to hit the ball with my right hand while my left is doing Tourette’s.

“Use both hands to spike!” yells Colonel Quickdraw.

No shit! Didn’t you see me try that! On second thought, you probably didn’t…

By now, I’m begging for a substitute to take my place. I’m finally removed from the game, and seek out our PA, CPT Hammond, for medical attention. He tells me that my thumb is broken. Broken! I survive eleven months of dodging rockets and barely avoiding friendly fire, and my thumb gets broken in a volleyball match just before I return home. Forgetting that there’s an eight-hour time difference, I call my friend, Bob, who works in Officer Recruiting back at my old unit. It’s 3am back in the States as he awakens and asks me groggily why I’ve called. I tell him that the people I’m with are dirt stupid, and that I want to join the National Guard Witness Protection Program.

John Ready served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves for a total of 21 years. In 2003, he was deployed as a Civil Affairs Officer to Iraq, where he sat at a desk in an abandoned building equipped with air-conditioning. He lives in Oneida, New York, where he was a Mission Continues Fellow, and now, a published author. He was interviewed on CNN in 2010 about his experiences in Iraq, specifically about how humanitarian aid contributes to our national security.

Want to write for Words After War? Email MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG.

Weekly Round-Up: Hibernation Edition



Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Hibernation” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

Hibernation. True winter — and I mean winter in the ‘post-holidaze,’ peppermint crash sense — has finally descended. So what now? I’d fiddle with my SSRI but higher dosages make my tongue itch. Ideally, I’d burrow into a creative project and emerge some sunny spring day with a monster three-book deal and shove it in the face of my hordes of (mostly imagined) haters.

I’m also hooked on Tom Drury’s Grouse County trilogy. Aside from that, there’s always the Internet, which produces hot content rain or shine. And some of it is relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue! Examples below.

1. Quil Lawrence on Fallujah.

2. Artis Henderson, the author of Unremarried Widow: A Memoir, in The Daily Beast.

3. Novelist Fiona Maazel on the grammar of commercial language.

4. “Middle Eastern chaos is but prologue to the drama sweeping much of the temperate zone of Afro-Asia all the way to China.” – Politico on the conflict mega-zone.

5. Novelist Teju Cole crafts a story from retweets.

6. The Morning News Tenth Annual Tournament of Books. Fun coverage of great contemporary literature.

7. A conversation between writer Adam Sternbergh and his editor, Zack Wagman.

Have a great weekend.


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Weekly Round-Up: Snow Days Edition

Snow Days from Space

Snow Days from Space

 Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC/Aqua/MODIS

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Snow Days” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

The first few days of this New Year brought frigid temperatures and blizzard conditions to much of the northeast. On Friday morning, I awoke to a city blanketed in white with hopes of a DC-like shutdown. No such luck.

Later that day, I saw a tweet that read something to the effect of ‘the only thing a snow day does is simply remind me that I am now an adult.’ I can’t help but relate to that sentiment, considering that even though the city streets had turned to a soupy gray slush and temperatures refused to rise above freezing all day, it was business as usual for most of us grown-ups, as we braved the elements and went to work. Later that evening, as I walked home from work, I thought to myself, ‘These are the moments my parents warned me about.’

There’s a part of me that is constantly in awe of this city’s sheer resilience and absolute refusal to slow down. Somehow, despite the extraordinary weather, we all decided to reject an afternoon of pajamas and Netflix in favor of suits and snow boots. And there’s this other part of me that really wanted us to collectively decide that it’s not a sin to sit around in gym shorts and enjoy the snow falling on a Friday.

In honor of snow days, here are some links for those of us who dream of a workday spent reading indoors.

Here we go.

  1. Wounded veterans get a new and very important mission: prosecuting child predators. Check out this interesting Stars and Stripes feature on how wounded warriors are chasing down criminals.
  2. Apparently George Saunders was named as one of Salon’s ‘Sexiest Men of 2013.’ Read about this and many more interesting facts in David Daley’s Q & A with the author.
  3. For those who have been monitoring the deteriorating situation in Fallujah, you might find Col. (Ret.) Peter Mansoor’s new book, Surge, to be a rather timely read. Journalist Paul Szoldra has compiled some of the highlights from a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything (AmA) with Col. Mansoor, which provides extrodinary insights into the planning and execution of “The Surge.”
  4. On the New Yorker’s “Page Turner” blog, Hannah Rosefield presents a critique and brief history of author interviews.
  5. Tom Nissley recently published a fascinating book, A Reader’s Book of Days, detailing literary facts for every single day of the year. I don’t mind saying that I received this as a gift over the holidays and will be reading my way through it the entire year. You can read some of Nissley’s January recommendations on The Millions.
  6. Over the past few years, a real industry has risen up around TED, a conference devoted to 15-20 minute long stories that engage with ‘important ideas’ in the fields of technology, education and design (among other things). Benjamin Bratton has written a rather thoughtful essay on why those short, feel-good TED talks might not be all that good for humanity.
  7. And for all of us who love to delete our stories, read about all the stories that Bob Brody never wrote.

P.S. If you have the means, please consider supporting this important project from poet Maurice Decaul: Lioness, the Pride of America, a play in one act.

Stay warm out there.