I have not been doing a great job keeping up with this blog.
When I first started at the beginning of the year, I had resolved to write something at least once a week. So far, this hasn’t happened. Certainly I have had plenty to keep me occupied. Between life, work, and trying to research and write my PhD, I have had plenty to keep me busy. Recently, I found as good a piece of evidence as any that has demonstrated to me just how difficult keeping a journal or blog up to date would be for me personally.
Two weeks ago, I found a journal that I had started in 2003. It had only one entry, dated today 15 years ago. I can in fact recall the circumstances of writing it well. I was in Kuwait, sitting in an Assembly Area, known as Camp Shoup, named for a former Colonel of the 2nd Marine Regiment and later Commandant of the Marine Corps. Shoup famously led the 2d Marine Regiment at the battle of Tarawa, which the Regiment had fought in and used in its Regimental crest. Written on 12th March 2003, we had already been waiting in the desert for nearly a month, assembled with Task Force Tarawa and the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
The entry was a long account of what had transpired, as I saw it, from about December 2002 and finding myself in the desert awaiting what then seemed to be the inevitable invasion of Iraq. Written over eight pages, it never properly concludes. I can remember writing it over a night long session as a watch officer, a duty I had one night as part of a rotation of the many lieutenants in my battalion. As nothing much was on at that point, there was time to do a lot of reflecting, and apparently a bit of writing.
Once the war kicked off in late March, there was really no time to write. I have two smaller notebooks I have kept, complete with fragments of orders and instructions, minute sketches and short narratives about events as they were happening or that I needed to record for later. Several more fragments on bits of paper, others written on cardboard sleeves from MREs that I managed to keep still survive as well. Of more interest, I kept some after action reports and other accounts given to me by my Marines as things unfolded, and much later when we had time to pause and reflect following the declared cessation of hostilities much later in April. I also have many photos. They are collectively, an imperfect record of my own experience there.
Many years later, following another deployment to Iraq in 2008, I can remember a valedictory speech by my then battalion commander during a BBQ at his home. I can remember his imploring, the officers he had taken with to war, for us to “write down what happened”. For ourselves mostly, perhaps just to reflect on later while the memories and experiences were still fresh in our mind. I did no such thing.
From all the deployments I made in the intervening years, I retain photos, a few notebooks, letters, and other fragments. At no point in the days immediately following did I make the attempt to write down what happened. I can recall the feeling of burnout after what had been a very intense and demanding operational tempo of what had been, for me, an eight-month long deployment.
To my mind, my own experiences of war, and my other deployments to other far off places in the course of my service, are not themselves noteworthy or particularly unique. Memoirs and accounts of war time experience in Iraq, and Afghanistan, were published quickly following the invasion of Iraq in 2003; many more have covered the span of these years.
As a historian, I am constantly on the look out for written memories and letters from those who experienced the events and subjects I seek to understand and write about. While these written accounts are themselves imperfect accounts in many ways, they provide a fleeting window into events and perspectives as experienced by those who were there. Not always are they written as they happened, many are written retrospectively with details altered are recalled imperfectly. Some of my favorites are letters kept by a family member or relative, carefully collected and preserved to be passed on through families and one day to an archive or collection. These are frequently both personal and intimate, and may in some ways reveal details that might never find their way into official narratives.
One day, perhaps, I will take the time to write down these events as best I can recall. These memories will have been affected by years of reflection and influenced by how these events will have been shaped over time. In the meantime, I hope to be able to share just a few of these in coming blog posts.