combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2003

Parthian Shot
a fleeting editorial dart inviting chase

Watch Our Smoke!

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
by Henry David Thoreau, "Conclusion" Walden (1854)

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest."
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Bible

Every combat commander has known the dreadful feeling of the most terrifying moment in battle, if only in their darkest dreams. You have long prepared to encounter every mental and physical challenge of a worthwhile task, and then you find yourself utterly alone on the killing field. This most often happens with inexperienced units or with a too fervid officer, and the results are usually disastrous. It has sometimes been caused by confusion in communication or between cultures, as with interservice or advisory elements. The remedy is, naturally, prevention, garnered from more intensive training. But there's also an applicable leadership maxim: never give an order that won't be obeyed.

This literary magazine has been a part-time dream for the past two decades. It began as a typical complaint: why doesn't such a publication already exist? And it evolved into a search for ways and means that presented more frustrations than solutions, more obstacles than pathways, more challenges than options. The methods other people used to acquire or fund or staff their publications didn't work for me ... for every promise there were contingencies, and for every opportunity there were preliminaries or prerequisites. My coterie of contacts and contributors kept growing, but so did my trials. The closer I got to fruition, the more negativity I aroused.

They said that it couldn't be done. Their reasons were cogent; and the catalogue of failed periodicals merely bolsters their conclusions. Academic research identifies the causes for such high attrition; but no one can offer a formula that's guaranteed. Then a friend shared a quote from Helen Keller: While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done. And so it was.

Then they said that even if it could be done, it should not be done ... for any number of reasons, ranging from profitability to readability. In a culture preoccupied with personalities, they said that to indulge a vainglorious dream was a futile waste of precious resources. In a nation that pretends to lead the world in education, they said that nobody reads anymore. As denizens of the earth's most technologically advanced region, they said that the medium is unsuitable for the message. In a tradition that proclaims the pen mightier than the sword, they said that writing doesn't change anything. As inheritors of history's most individualistic civilization, they said that it's too unlike all the other magazines ... with the clear implication that if the idea had any merit, then someone else would've already done it! Bemusedly, I pondered why anyone needs to cultivate opponents when colleagues are so accommodatingly adversarial!

As with combat, the real proof of the test is in the performance ... who reports for duty, who stands fast under fire, who volunteers above and beyond the call of duty. The military has a thousand terms for gasconaders and shirkers, but only a few for good servicemembers[1]; because life (and death) in the Armed Forces is among the most difficult, so among the most evaded. Perhaps warriors have a different sense of economy[2], since their honor is priceless, and they're pledged to pay for freedom's full value. As a result, they have not needed to be begged or bribed into participation. I have found in this publishing venture a commonality with the military, in that the people who criticize the most are not the stalwarts[3] occupying a position on the front line. In the hardships of an uncertain campaign, you realize who can be trusted. These winter soldiers of spare mien and reserve nature are possessed of an understated competence. Quiet professionalism is always more effective and efficient than the hyperbolic dramatizations in the dominant media.

The prevailing attitude on war is negative, even among military adepts. Combat is widely perceived as either beyond our control or senseless[4]; and no one who is not obligated would willingly read about it. Therefore, conventional wisdom posits that any publication which does not advocate or decry war is doomed to extinction. According to the naysayers, it is anathema to consider learning anything valuable from war. We are informed that all of the significant values have already been defined for civilization, and life now consists of appropriate adherence to these established modes. We are permitted to exercise some latitude in manifesting these values, as long as all sanctions are satisfied, and said nonconformity is harmless. I was, in fact, told to practice an innocuous commercial deception[5] by first launching a profitable periodical in order to finance the more desirable one, the ostensibly unprofitable one. That both could easily fail despite all machinations was immaterial.

The pessimists further allege that it is ludicrous to imagine that combat literature can be other than mawkish or morose. For those of us who have fought for abstract ideals and abstruse ideas, the use of words as representational forms to depict genuine meaning or to elicit sincere emotion is entirely reasonable ... thoroughly consistent with every storyteller throughout history[6]. Fighting for intangibles in an elemental and finite world has sensitized us to the uses of propaganda and the abuses of patriotism. We are aware that what was captured yesterday is often discarded tomorrow, that what was venerated yesterday is often despised tomorrow, that what was precious yesterday is often worthless tomorrow. We know how esoteric combat is, and how it is only a portion of the involute complexities forming our agglomerated society. We know that the classic war story ... we went up the hill and some of us came back ... is only obvious to other combatants, and must be explained and analyzed for its meaning to become widely apparent. Based upon our own insights, we shall endeavor to demonstrate in these collective pages the accessible universality of human events ... terrible, amazing, delightful, and bittersweet.

This humble magazine is not a venue for saving the world from itself. The staff does not endeavor to change minds or persuade conclusions. I've not embarked upon an existential quest to climb some metaphoric mountain, simply because it's there. Neither are we favoring extreme activities, nor pandering to philosophies, nor prescribing ideologies. We're not trying to pay our dues, or to re-pay our debts ... we've been there, and done that, got the scars and the T-shirts. If we must confess to some ulterior motive or craven obsession, it would be to re-inventing the wheel, to refurbishing our redoubt, to excavating the path less taken ... just for the fun of it!

As enemy positions are taken singly, our mission objectives will likewise be accomplished issue by issue, item by item, one composition at a time. We intend, in this literary magazine, to feature the best new work on the broad subject of combat. This will be a collection of many voices, and not a monotonic book compiled on the installment plan. Just as there is no battle to end all battles, so there is no prose or verse that can say everything once and for all. The nature of individual experience[7], though endlessly repeated, has the power to evoke a new spirituality every time. This unique phenomenon is worthy of our contemplation.

While most people are earnestly husbanding their money tree, and others are being dragged by the heart on their sleeve after their passions, a few of us are doing things despite conviction or compensation. Some things are worth doing for their own sake[8], but this judgement has been qualified by some latent acumen. Regardless of how appealing or remunerative a job is, it inevitably becomes routine work[9]. Some are defined by their labors, be they plumbers or physicians, and others are refined by their occupations, be they librarians or chefs; but the relativity of work is more crucial. The call to vocation is more than professional dedication, but extends to working contacts and associations. The editorial staff of this magazine has the distinction of interacting with many ingenious people, and of encountering many creative projects. This is not just a smorgasbord laden with a variety of dishes, but a buffet replenished by a succession of unexpected fare borne by its creators. Arranging this table is indeed a good job.

This literary magazine has sallied forth onto the battlefield. We are a small but effective force. Our talented troops maneuver well and have good fire discipline. The big guns and heavy armor surround us, but we can skirmish with the best. Watch our smoke! ... and eat our dust, 'cause we're on the march.

[1] : ironically, the word "soldier" is a contranym; meaning both a person with military experience (fugleman), and a person pretending to work (malingerer).
[return to text]
[2] : "There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put in one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect." by T. Woodrow Wilson, Des Moines Iowa speech (1 Feb 1916); "Both sides honored him for the fight he had made, but war does not reward a man according to his deserts." by Winston Churchill, The Crisis (1901).
[return to text]
[3] : "Famous men are, in large part, a reflection of their times, but it is the little man behind history who, in the long run, determines those times". by Walter Dumaux Edmonds, A Novelist Takes Stock p77; "War may make a fool of man, but it by no means degrades him; on the contrary it tends to exalt him." by H.L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956).
[return to text]
[4] : "Unless they are immediate victims, the majority of mankind behaves as if war was an act of God which could not be prevented; or they behave as if war elsewhere was none of their business. It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination." by Martha Gellhorn, Intro The Face of War (1959; rev 1967); "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." by Jeannette Rankin, ch 8 Jeanette Rankin: First Lady In Congress by Hannah Josephson (1974).
[return to text]
[5] : "The notion of making money by popular work, and then retiring to do good work, is the most familiar of all the devil's traps for artists." by Logan Pearsall Smith, "Art and Letters" Afterthoughts (1931).
[return to text]
[6] : "Many heroes lived before Agamemnon; but all are unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night, because they have no spirited chronicler." by Horace [Quintus Horatius Flaccus], bk 4 ode 9 st 7 Odes; "Historians desiring to write the actions of men, ought to set down the simple truth, and not say anything for love or hatred; also to choose such an opportunity for writing as it may be lawful to think what they will, and write what they think, which is a rare happiness of the time." by Sir Walter Raleigh, "A Collection of Political Observations" The Works of Sir Walter Raleigh ch 25 vol 1 (repr 1751); "If man is reduced to being nothing but a character in history, he has no other choice but to subside into the sound and fury of a completely irrational history or to endow history with the form of human reason." by Albert Camus, "State Terrorism and Rational Terror" The Rebel pt 3 (1951; tr 1953).
[return to text]
[7] : "Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one's enemies." by Leon Trotsky [Leib Davidovich Bronstein], ch 6 Literature and Revolution (1924).
[return to text]
[8] : "There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it." by C.E. Montague, ch 15 sct 3 Disenchantment (1922); "Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." by Theodore Roosevelt, Labor Day speech in Syracuse (7 Sep 1903); "There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in — that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible." by Mother Teresa, "Imitation of Christ" A Gift for God (1975).
[return to text]
[9] : "Nothing is worth doing unless the consequences may be serious." by George Bernard Shaw, Misalliance (1910); "Results are what you expect, and consequences are what you get." a schoolgirl's definition, Ladies' Home Journal (Jan 1942).
[return to text]

by Ed Staff