Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 5, 2014

“Keep that Fan Mail Coming.” Ceremonial Storytelling and Audience Interaction in a US Soldier’s Milblog

Frank Usbeck

Abstract

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq initiated a surge of texts by US soldiers who utilized recent Web 2.0 technology to forge new types of war narratives, such as the so-called “milblogs.” Milblogs merge letter and journal writing with journalistic reporting, and they maintain contact between soldiers and their social environment. They are at once public and private communication. Military psychology since Vietnam has referred to warrior traditions of Native American communities to discuss public narration and ceremonial acknowledgment of a soldier’s war experience as vital elements for veteran readjustment and trauma recovery. This article analyzes an exemplary milblog to argue that the interaction between blogger and audience does similar cultural work and has comparable ceremonial and, therefore, therapeutic functions: Soldiers publicly share their experience, reflect on it with their audience, receive appreciation and support, and thus mutually (re-)negotiate group identity.


Corresponding author: Frank Usbeck, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Fakultät für Sprach-, Kultur- und Literaturwissenschaften, TU Dresden, Wienerstr. 48, 01062 Dresden, Germany, e-mail:

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    This is not to suggest that milblogging might be a stand-alone prophylaxis or treatment for PTSD, nor does this approach ignore the problems and isolation returning veterans currently face when looking for jobs or navigating the red tape of the VA system (cf. Klein 2013). Returnee’s blogs, such as Scott Lee’s PTSD: A Soldier’s Perspective (2013b) have their own therapeutic merits, but spatial limitations prescribe a focus on blogging from the combat zone in this article.

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    It must be noted, however, that Traversa had very good internet access on his large base, and that he was a captain in his mid-40s at the time of deployment, in contrast to the much more erratic access at smaller Forward Operating Bases and to the much lower average age of privates and NCOs in the combat teams, all of which would have an influence on frequency and length of posts and, possibly, writing style, in comparison. My thanks to Brian Schneider (Uni Konstanz) for his comments in this regard.

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    For discussions of Operational Security (OPSEC) in the use of social media, cf. Roering 2012, 88–95; U.S. Army, “Army Social Media Handbook 2012.”

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    In Booth’s sense of “narractivity,” ritualized community-building is evident in the playful mutual text-production among bloggers and audience, in AWAC’s self-presentation as a show, and in Traversa’s reference to “fan mail” (Traversa, “Off-Roading”). For an example of this perspective from a different blog, cf. Usbeck 2012b, 108–111.

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Published Online: 2014-6-5
Published in Print: 2014-6-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston