combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2003

Parthian Shot
a fleeting editorial dart inviting chase

Good Enough for Government Work

"A man who is good enough to give his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled to, less than that no man shall have."
by Theodore Roosevelt [4 July 1903 speech in Springfield]

One of the most common catch-phrases in military or civil service is: good enough for government work. It allegedly typifies a careless or hasty attitude toward assignments, but actually represents a characteristically urgent task, to be performed with the meanest resources and under notoriously unpleasant conditions, which will affect the survival of other people and the fulfillment of shared goals. This descriptor of seemingly haphazard aspect is actually a reflection of the distinction between the right way, the wrong way, and the military way of doing things.

Like all distinct enterprises, this magazine has its own way of doing things; and, in common with other publications, these preferences are proclaimed in the guidelines posted for public access. Because our staff has been there and done that, the most distinctive aspect of our editorial policies is our copyright adherence. Please don't misunderstand ... we're not champions of copyright law. We would undoubtedly prefer some less complex mechanism for acknowledging intellectual property ... one which recognized the impracticality of protectionism in an open society that freely exchanges ideas. But that's not unlike a preference for peace in a world plagued with conflict. In the harsh realities of the real world, where people need money to feed and shelter themselves, the ownership of creative expression must be assured for marketability.

Because we have been at the sharp end of both swords and pens, we are determined to serve our contributors better than we've been treated; which entails a professional jealousy for their artistic rights. Most publishers of commercial periodicals do not employ formal transfers or releases; but process this obligation with either a policy statement or a summary release imprinted on their payment. The contributor accepts the magazine's terms by allowing his work to be published ... a failure to endorse or cash the check will not void the agreement. Trade magazines and academic journals often employ transfer or release contracts; but they frequently take all rights to an accepted submission, which requires that the author obtain that publisher's permission to reprint or reproduce the work in another venue or format. And these struggling word merchants often have to pay the publisher to get read or published in prestigious periodicals, and will not be recompensed when their work is transformed or anthologized ... in other words, don't quit your day job to become a successful author! The tradition of literary magazines is somewhat better, but still not remunerative, since most periodicals in this genre are underfunded. Most serious writers begin their careers with little magazines, where craftsmanship is cherished and rights are protected. We sustain that tradition.

Like the Hague or the Geneva convention, the international copyright convention is actually a set of related treaties which are variously applied and interpreted by the signatories. Although American copyright is unique for its constitutionality, and the United States is a late signatory to the international copyright conventions, the normal practice is to void those protections by requiring that artists and authors relinquish all or most of their rightful protections in exchange for being published. This is not illegal ... just immoral. There are numerous instances of successful authors requiring that their early works be restored before being reissued ... just as there are numerous instances of dedicated editors working hard to improve a writer's talent with constructive criticism and judicious redacting. This is a sensitive matter that requires both mutual consideration and cooperation.

The publisher is in business, and his widgets are words; but he will not remain in business for long if his product is unsatisfactory ... which is an incentive toward the highest quality acceptable to the market. Likewise, a writer who demands contracts where none are proffered, or who insists upon the absolute integrity of their inviolate work is committing authorial suicide ... their intolerance will make them unpublishable. As more than one publisher has expressed it: "the writer did his job, so now let the editor do his job too" ... and they are very different, albeit related, roles. Just as a good editor can help an author to better express themselves, so an editor is obligated to make the publication as marketable as possible ... which has often meant condensing or abridging, emending or rewriting a submission. One notable author reputedly responded: "I'm pleased that you could find such a fine book buried in the mass of verbiage I submitted!".

In a practical sense, every author trades authority for privilege ... and publication is truly a privilege. Just as privacy is not implicit in our protection against unreasonable searches, so the freedom of speech does not imply a guarantied medium. The sanctity of expression has been repeatedly restricted for the commonweal, so even the copyright of obscene or seditious matter is in dispute. The distinction between marketability and artistic expression has less to do with copyright than with professional practices. The fact is that there are too many publishers chasing after a shrinking audience ... the right to be heard is not implicit in the right of expression ... and there are too many skilled practitioners with good ideas. The publishing world is a buyers' market, and the exponentially expanding InterNet is exacerbating this situation. With increased publisher consolidations and start-up failures, the penny-a-liners are less likely than ever to be offered a grubstake.

When a select few succeed magnificently, others are sustained in their quest, and still others are inspired to emulate their achievements. Given the exaggerated hype incumbent upon publicist promotions, it is understandable that many aspirants write beyond the pale of their ability or expertise ... but it should not be condoned. Just as feminists have ridiculed fantastic pornographic scenarios as ludicrous, so veterans are convulsed with mirth at the inaccuracies and pretensions inherent in preposterous war stories! ... turning fiction into farce, sensationalism into harlequinade, and adventure into burlesque! But Renaissance Men are now rare, and publishers lack the resources to remedy such travesties.

The enticements are so great that self-control, which has never been universally favored, is overwhelmed by ambition. If authors can't catch the mistakes, and publishers won't fix the errors, then peer review is often the only check on deliberate distortion or deception in a composition. Among the difficult lessons that humanity must persistently relearn is the autonomy of individual experience, especially when ostensibly shared. An objective or collective truth is only validated when it becomes subjectively singular ... a soldier is only intimately aware of his own personal experience in a battle. That knowledge may be extended, but it cannot be authenticated; so when an author's bias confounds the facts, then the problem of legitimacy becomes secondary to genuineness ... a thing can be accurate without being true. Only scholars will bother to check sources for later correction or retraction. And in a community that is constantly reinventing itself and revising its past, the Big Lie is often preferred!

The Morality Rights clause of the Berne copyright convention protects artistic expression from misrepresentation or misuse ... such as a deformed poem, an amended article, a cropped photograph, or even a retitled work ... all of which are ordinary adjustments in American publishing. We voluntarily adhere to this convention as a testament to artistic solidarity ... and as a reversion from gold makes the rules to the original golden rule of reciprocal virtue. As declared in our guidelines, the staff lacks the time to critique each submitted piece, and cannot tutor the creative process; neither does the staff ghostwrite or coauthor compositions. However, if an editor sees enough potential in a piece or talent in the writer, some brief comments may be tendered to help direct the revision of a potentially salvageable work. These are, of course, only suggestions which may be (and have been) disregarded by the artist. We have been criticized more than a few times for our misreading of certain works, which only illustrates the convention's point about the resignment of works not being an unmixed blessing ... if we can misunderstand it, then so can other readers; so the work probably does need some revision prior to publication.

We have met two award-winning authors who had, as nascent writers, diametrically opposite reactions to the same editor's constructive criticisms of their submissions ... the one heeding the advice, and crediting that editor with heuristic instruction that shaped all subsequent compositions; and the other categorically rejecting the advice, and dogmatically competing elsewhere to prove that editor mistaken. We are acquainted with not a few persons who believe themselves perfect, but despite such arrogations, we've never known anyone who's faultless. Writers and editors are no exception; and we are painfully aware of our own humbling limitations. Regardless of our best efforts, our ministrations are sometimes inadequate and our judgement is sometimes flawed ... and we are usually informs about our shortcomings in no uncertain terms, just so we won't get overly confident! Perhaps some people truly are innately talented natural artists, but we subscribe to the empirical school, which finds modification and refinement to be a developmental process. As one author stated a long time ago: "I don't write much, but I rewrite a great deal!" ... and we have never heard of an author who can resist tweaking his earlier work, nor found a piece of writing that cannot be improved. It is axiomatic that artistic works are never finished ... they're abandoned!

Our objective is fairly simple and straightforward: we intend to publish the best available works which are relevant to our mission. In order to attain this objective, we may, from time to time, invite improvements to ensure positive results ... with the understanding that the author's work shall bear his byline signifying personal determination and independent creativity. This affirmation not only signifies authorial sincerity but warrants the contributed expatiation to be the author's own decisive findings. Although the writer and editor, contributor and publisher share in a mutually beneficial relationship, our limited dissemination of creative work is not an endorsement of their propositions or conclusions. We aggressively guard our contributors rights, including the great American right to be wrong; because no one knows what may eventually prove to precipitate a viable panacea for mankind's perennial internecine warfare.

We are not interested in adherence to the typical party line of conventional mil-spec solutions; neither shall we reinforce off-hand or slap-dash attitudes of representation. From the outside, every war resembles every other war ... just as every patriot, every corpse, and every orphan resemble each other ... but the essence is in the details of existence, of creation and destruction, and that is the focus of our publication. We're looking for a few good people to counter the ordinary portrayals by putting their hearts and minds on public display. We're looking for a few brave people with the courage of their convictions to contradict the blathering drivel that passes for erudition.

We are not at all interested in submissions which are merely good enough for government work. And, when everything's been said and done, we pledge the reversion of all artistic rights to the contributor after the current quarter of publication. It's not the least we can do, but it's the right thing to do. It's our way of keeping the faith with our comrades.

"No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent."
by Abraham Lincoln [16 Oct 1854 speech in Peoria]

by Ed Staff