Monday, February 15, 2010

Blog Fate: Truth, Power, Authenticity and Death

War, Literature and the Arts Volume 21 (2009) had a piece by Brandon Lingle on former mil-blogger, Colby Buzzell (Colby Buzzell’s My War: An Outsider’s Voice from Inside Iraq). Excerpt below:                                  

Web logs or “blogs,” basically online journals, are now common among soldiers in war zones. Today, there are nearly 2,400 military blogs by Americans, and this virtually uncontrolled medium is allowing unheard voices into the global dialogue quicker than ever before. One of these voices is that of former Army specialist Colby Buzzell. His writing is interesting because it gets at truth in a subversive way that caught the attention of a wide audience including the military leadership.

Buzzell writes that kids from his working-class neighborhood had two choices after high school: “you either get your education on at some big-name university or you live at your parents’ and smoke pot and work a shit job, like telemarketing.” Not content with either of those choices, Buzzell was a 26-year-old punk rocker, skateboarding through “dead-end” jobs around San Francisco, California, when he decided to join the Army because he was bored. He ended up in Iraq and began anonymously documenting his experiences on a blog. Buzzell’s often cynical and satiric blog gained a significant following of readers. One reader wrote that Buzzell’s “writings about Iraq are more interesting than those of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings combined” which points to the apparent diminishing credibility of mainstream news outlets. But, the popularity of Buzzell’s blog invariably led to its temporary undoing when the website caught the eye of Army leadership who censored the online writings.
Buzzell best exhibits his Gonzo Style in a post titled Men in Black. It recounts a massive insurgent offensive downplayed by both the media and military. Buzzell intros the piece with the text from a CNN article titled “Mosul clashes leave 12 dead.” The CNN article makes no mention of US involvement in the fighting. Buzzell continues:

Now here’s what really happened…We were driving down Route Tampa when all of the sudden all hell came down around us, all these guys, wearing all black, a couple dozen on each side of the street, on rooftops, alleys […] everywhere, just came out of fucking nowhere and started unloading on us. AK fire and multiple RPGs were flying at us from every single fucking direction…[I] engaged them with a couple good ten-round bursts of some .50 cal, right at them…this gunfight had been going on for 41 hours when the ING (Iraqi National Guard) showed up to the party.(250-1)

Buzzell then posts the Army news release about the incident which claims that “Iraqi security forces repelled all of the attacks [and] multinational forces served in a supporting role,” (261) which completely contradicts Buzzell’s account of the battle. It is ironic that a figure like Buzzell provides a more accurate account of an event than the government or media. This incident exemplifies Gonzo Journalism’s adaptability to the blog format which itself is another tie to the picaresque model, that of a protean form.

Buzzell earned some media attention after his Men in Black post which thereby drew the Army’s interest. As the Army’s monitoring of Buzzell’s blog increased, he changed his writing style. The once detailed vignettes became stripped down caricatures when he began posting cynically vague statements like “the other day we went somewhere, and did something (counter-mortar mission).” Buzzell taunted the Army censors that he knew were watching: “I would like to take this time now to say a nice warm Mar-Haba (that’s ‘Welcome’ in Arabic) to all my new readers down at MI [military intelligence],” (285).

He also posted Amendment I of the US Constitution with the disclaimer “story developing…” (289). Buzzell was officially ordered to stop blogging after he posted a message from Dead Kennedy front man and first amendment activist Jello Biafra:
. . . we are the real patriots here, not the unelected gangsters and scam artists who started this war. Real patriots care enough about our country – and the world – to speak up, stand up, and fight back when the government breaks the law, lies, steals, and gets innocent people killed… As long as people in the field speak up we have a chance at preserving the truth. Otherwise it’s the bullshit gospel according to Fox News and the Bush-Croft regime. . . . (320)

Brandon Lingle is a 2000 graduate of the US Air Force Academy where he currently teaches English. His non-fiction or photography has appeared in WLA and The North American Review, The Mississippi Review online, and Juked Magazine.

Colby Buzzell’s blog My War: Killing Time in Iraq has not been updated since mid 2009.  You can read some of the press his blog had generated but the archives are almost completely offline.  His book with the same title was published in October 2005. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “relentlessly cynical volume” and said “Buzzell appears to be a sentimental misanthrope; he pours scorn on everyone from cooks to generals to President Bush. He also despises the media, the antiwar movement and everyone who thinks they understand what's happening in Iraq. That his superiors kept their hands off his blog for several months, however, shows they understood that despite its foul language, griping, insults directed at higher officers and occasional exposure of dirty linen Buzzell's work never really wavers in its portrayal of American forces as the good guys in a dirty war.”


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