Tag Archives: Iraq

What Happened to Standards?

Each source you cite in the paper must appear in your reference list; likewise, each entry in the reference list must be cited in your text. –  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

I have a daughter in 11th grade at Pittsburgh Allderdice. As she was finishing last semester and preparing for finals she was completing a section in American History about slavery, state’s-rights, and the run-up to the Civil War.  Her class had to complete a 15 event timeline project – What (in the student’s opinion) were the most significant events in a 30 or 40 year period that ended with the establishment of the Confederacy?  They had to describe in 1-2 paragraphs what happened and why they felt it was significant.  Do you know what? Even though it was an imaginative and artistic project with visual appeal, they had to cite their sources; they had to assemble a bibliography. Back when I walked to school both ways uphill in the snow, we adhered to the same standard. You cited your work, you informed the reader of where and how you elicited the information (reading, interviews, broadcasts) by which you as the writer were further informing the reader and/or drawing conclusions.

Why the background? I have a problem with the Da Capo Press.  I just finished Honor and Betrayal by Patrick Robinson, published by the De Capo Press. Honor and Betrayal is, as the cover states, “The untold story of the Navy SEALs who captured the “Butcher of Fallujah”- and the shameful ordeal they later endured.”

On March 31, 2004, four American contractors employed by Blackwater Security Consulting were ambushed and killed; their bodies brutalized, burned and then dragged through Fallujah before being hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.  In 2009 the United States caught up with the major leader of the insurgency in Fallujah – Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi – the same man who organized the assault and desecration of the ambushed Blackwater staff. Al-Isawi is considered responsible for several thousand deaths in Anbar province, almost all of them Iraqi.  In a nighttime raid beautifully retold in the book, the SEALS arrested al-Isawi and brought him back to Camp Schwedler just outside of Fallujah.

Within three days, three of the SEALs who’d participated in the capture and arrest of al-Isawi were accused of assaulting and injuring him while in captivity.  What then ensues is a seven month ordeal that culminates in three Courts Martial, requested by the defendants as the their only option to actually prove their innocence and clear their names.  Ultimately all three, after two trials in Iraq and one in Virginia, were found innocent of all charges.  There is even a Pittsburgh connection. One of the primary Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General) officers representing the SEALs was Lt. Guy Reschenthaler who grew up here, graduated from Law School at Duquesne, and is today the District Judge in Jefferson Hills. There were even the obligatory (and inaccurate) Steeler references made in the book.

My problem with this intriguing 356 page story, one worthy of knowing, is that there isn’t one single footnote, reference, or page of bibliography.  From even the most rudimentary non-fiction perspective, this might as well be Harry Potter or Moby Dick.  Patrick Robinson is a prolific author of fiction work, mostly naval based techno-thrillers. He’s actually a good writer; his stories are pretty compelling and aren’t as techno-geek centric as even Tom Clancy became.  But I’m not sure that he (or his agent, editor, whomever) should have let this work be written to the same standards.  It’s unfortunate, because while Honor and Betrayal is a compelling and even an important read, it can’t be used as an historic work, at least by juniors at Pittsburgh Allderdice.


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In Advance of Veteran’s Day

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.” – Tim O’Brien

I’ve never served in the military. I have no interest in ever doing so (I’m a big ol’ wimp. I give all the props in the world to those who choose this route). However, one of my go-to genres is a good war memoir. This is probably because of the whole “this is the most realistic thing I’ll never experience for myself” thing.

In college, I took a cluster course called “America at War in the Age of Rock and Roll” – a value-meal sized class that married War Literature and Film with Politics of Rock and Roll (Yay, liberal arts!). I think this played a large part in sparking my interest, thanks to two engaging professors, but especially in reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. While fiction, this reads like any personal account of war that you’ll find.

Despite starting off with the Vietnam War, my interests have been split evenly between World War II and the current war, as they bear the more personal connections (also, HBO’s penchant for producing a really good mini-series). My grandfather served as a Naval radio man in the Pacific theater of WWII; my brother-in-law spent a year at Camp Bucca as an MP.

I absorbed  The Pacific when it aired on TV a few years ago and then promptly read Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed and Helmet for My Pillow, by Robert Leckie. Did the same thing after finally watching Band of Brothers – Stephen Ambrose’s book is a fine piece of source material.

As for more contemporary tales, my go-to recommdations stem from Generation Kill. Evan Wright, a reporter from Rolling Stone, was embedded with the First Recon Marines in the spring of 2003 as they acted as “the tip of the spear” during the early days of our presense in Iraq. Wright’s outsider-looking-in account is balanced by One Bullet Away, written by Nathaniel Fick, then a lieutenant in that same company. Fick was close to graduating from Dartmoth when he decided to follow his college education with Marine Corps Officer Candidates School. His is one of the smartest memoirs I’ve read.

I only wish there were more from a woman’s perspective, although the Library of Congress has a neat aural history collection from women in their Veteran’s History Project.

Here’s a few more to check out:



– Jess


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Music from Iraq

There’s more to Iraq than chaos and conflict. There’s music to be heard.

Despite the ongoing violence, music is still being made in Iraq today such as the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra in Baghdad (who just performed on May 21, 2008). And there’s even a heavy metal band from Iraq, now refugees, and the subject of a documentary.

In my next post, I’ll introduce you to music from other hot spots around the globe.

— Tim


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war is northless.

Today is the five year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq which launched the current war.  The casualty count of U.S. soldiers nears 4,000 and Iraqi civilian deaths number at least 80,000 (though varying estimates exist).  The cost in dollars rises by the minute.

Whether you agree with George W. Bush that these were necessary costs, you’re a Pittsburgher for Peace, or you’d rather follow Heath Ledger’s death, there is probably a subject heading to lead you to materials about the war that support your opinion. 

Whatever your position, some of the most undeniably compelling writing and comment about the war comes from soldiers themselves, as evidenced by last weekend’s conference “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations,” an event modeled after the controversial 1971 Winter Soldier conference that involved Vietnam veterans.  The name “Winter Soldier” is a play on the famous opening to Thomas Paine‘s writing “The American Crisis:” 

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

Excerpts from last weekend’s Winter Soldier conference are available to hear online, and there are numerous books that contain personal narratives from many sides, including heroes, Army interrogators, Iraqis, embedded journalistsa pet dog and less-easy-to-categorize others.  A good amount of fiction related to the war also stocks the shelves.

 A situation as morally complex and with repercussions as serious as war (especially one with such contentious beginnings and with so many many many many scandals) can leave us confused or angry, but at least there’s some comfort in the fact that we can find resources to educate ourselves about it.  And, hopefully, it’s safe to say that, however we think we should get there, we’re all awaiting the day when we can commemorate an anniversary that marks the beginning of peace in Iraq.



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