The War in Context
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Baghdad's new blogger
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, July 11, 2003

Salam Pax is still the best known Baghdad blogger, but another picture of life in the city newly emerges, this time from a blogger who arrived there just a few weeks ago. The weblog is Turningtables, its author is a U.S. Army sergeant camped outside one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

Soldiers on active duty are often reluctant to say how they feel, but at a time when U.S. casualties are mounting, the justification for the war is open to question, and "pockets of resistance" are beginning to look more like guerilla warfare, Turningtables unmasks the fears that usually lie hidden behind a soldier's expressionless face.

it's a sad state that originates when the death of soldiers becomes common everyday news...and it stops being surprising...and shocking...and horrible...when it takes a really gruesome story to remind you that you are in the middle of this shit...and you can't go home...YOU CAN'T GO want to curl up and quit...

Sergeant Sean has been keeping his journal since early June and the life he describes will ring true for many a soldier:

we volunteered for this...we sit here because we raised our hand...and sold our souls...most would think that we knew exactly what we were getting into...they would be wrong...we were naive...we were homeless...we were living with our mothers...this is just a job for 75% of us…

Circumstances may have set this soldier on a course he hadn't foreseen, but nevertheless, his appreciation for military life shines through:

if there is a person who wanders aimlessly through life I would recommend the service to them...and I would even allow my children to join...I would only hope that they remain objective through out...that they keep a sense of reality and stay aware…

the military in itself is altruistic...communism...but how else could it possibly operate...selfless service...the good of the whole over the good of the one...the pay...the living conditions...think about it...soldiers are not free to make their own decisions...if they were how could anything difficult be could a platoon take a machine gun nest...or a war be won...

His unit wants to be seen as the toughest support unit in the Army, but he knows that neither inside nor outside the military does any glamour attach to the role of support. Movies don't get made about these troops even though they form the backbone of every army.

With six years of service under his belt, previously based in Bosnia and later Afghanistan, Sgt. Sean is a regular soldier doing his job but the story he tells gently mocks the icons of warfare that are Hollywood's bread and butter. Arnold Schwarzenegger can rally the troops in Baghdad and promote his new movie by calling the GI's the "true terminators," but military life -- as described by a man actually living it -- is a way of making a living, a stepping stone to college, a structure for an unstructured life.

I once read that some people come off as courageous because they are so afraid of being thought a coward...I'm glad that as of yet I haven't had to prove my courage...that would mean somebody was trying to kill me...and right now...I'm content with people shooting off nasty emails instead of bullets...

Military service carries the honor of defending ones nation even for those who never fire a shot, but all the while the hopes and dreams of each soldier must lie in wait, far from the battlefield, locked away in a life postponed.

there are so many difficulties that come with a deployment to the Middle East...a major portion of your life is put on hold for 6 to 9 months and all the areas that could not possibly pause for your war are forced on to the phone lines...

Sgt. Sean, like thousands of other American service men and women, now finds himself at the sharp end of a political experiment whose design was always unclear and whose conclusion becomes ever more elusive. The president insists that America will stay the course in Iraq, but a mission with no deadline is a plan that dare not risk being called a failure.

The White House and the rest of Washington continue to juggle with competing demands from ill-defined strategic goals, bungled foreign relations, a neglected economy and a presidential campaign that makes every other need subservient to that of electoral victory. Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers must sweat it out in Iraq not knowing whether they will be there for months or years or, worst of all, whether they might end up the next victim of a rocket-propelled grenade attack or a drive-by shooting.

Turningtables, Sgt. Sean's weblog, is located at

All quotations (appearing in italics) are from Turningtables and used with the author's permission.

This article has also appeared at Tom Engelhardt's TomDispatch and ZNet with a revised version appearing at Pacific News Service, titled "Baghdad Blogger -- A U.S. Soldier's Internet Diary."

Paul Woodward is the editor of The War in Context (

© 2003 Paul Woodward

© 2003 Paul Woodward