combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2004

Parthian Shot
a fleeting editorial dart inviting chase


"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
paraphrase of February 1770 letter to M. le Riche: "Monsieur l'Abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." from François Marie Arouet Voltaire; cited in "Essay on Tolerance" by S.G. Tallentyre (pseudonym); The Friends of Voltaire ed by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1907)

When a magazine first ventures forth into the agora, the response may range from speculation to disdain. It's childish to expect admiration, and foolish to anticipate respect. Too many publications have been heralded with fanfare greater than their potential, and their unkept promises have jaded the industry while diminishing their audiences. This is true of any début, from coming of age to artistic revelation ... and is particularly true for the unblooded gunslingers who sally forth from Dodge City into Indian Country for the first time. That preparation and simulation are always inadequate is almost a truism. That respect must be earned is not a cliché.

We have not only taken hits and casualties from our inception, but the incoming persists in the form of sniping and skirmishes ... thankfully, we have not yet been barraged or overrun. We have had to cope with technical and bureaucratic problems, with spammers and scammers, critics and antagonists ... and most recently, collegial editorial advice. We've been accused of bias for rejecting substandard work, and of being too cultivated for publishing the best available work. We may cherish guilty aspirations, but we have yet to find a thesis or theme with which we are not already familiar. It is not the subjects which offend us, but the manner of their expression.

This caveat can be a convenient excuse for anyone who is intellectually dishonest; but short of the compulsive quagmire which threatens to submerge our vaunted declarations of liberty beneath a surfeit of artificiality, we cannot prove our probity. From the outset we have championed the right of free expression in an open forum. We anticipated inundation by pacifistic plaints, but the few we received failed to address the manner for displacing violence or the method for quelling conflict ... in fact, none even suggested that altruism or love or prayer would blunt the arsenal of aggression, as religious apologists in the past have done. Neither have we attracted a spate of warmongers inciting malicious hostility and fearful repellence for their particular cause du jour. With a few notable exceptions, we have read and published mostly anti-war compositions. They are perceptive and sensitive, and portray people dealing with some of the complexities of a bad situation, of people coping with indelible memories. This is not surprising to us, since we know that the soldiers, who are the ones that actually risk their lives in combat, are the most desirous of a proper end to violence.

One area of criticism attempts to dismiss us by attacking our legitimacy, and that thrust is double-edged. The argument takes the form of a logical proposition, as if the manner in which people live their lives were the only rational conclusion to irrefutable postulates. The argument contends that if we are a true literary magazine, then we must be credentialed elitists, and are therefore indistinguishable from our ilk in other publications. And, if we are not credentialed, then we are illegitimate poseurs imitating what we can never attain ... not unlike a hobo crashing an elegant fete. If there can be a reasonable rebuttal to this criticism, it is that no legitimate publisher wanted to offer this venue, so it has been left to the cultivation of outsiders. It is true that we are not an English Department in an educational cloister; and, in fact, no one on staff has a degree in English, in Literature, or in Writing. As one popular novelist has expressed it: "these literary experts are wormy poops who make reading boring and writing lifeless with their pompous analyses". As was said of any attempt to analyze P.G. Wodehouse's humor, it does not conform to the formulaic generation of a naso-labial rictus as a deus ex machina ... it's simply amusing because it transcends all of its contradictions.

Our staff consists of writers turned editors, who've not quit their day jobs for a more refined or lucrative vocation, and who have varied backgrounds, not unlike the authors contributing their work to this venue. And like most writers, we can't remember all those arcane grammatical rules or the spelling of confusing words, and have to look everything up just to be doubly sure. When I went back to school to learn about publishing, the professor for the course in editing stated that she could tell if a magazine used a stylesheet for consistency in its guidelines. The problem for us is not the lack of access to reference books, some of which are contradictory, but that we recognize an author's desire to express himself distinctively. We can therefore accept alright for all right, or whosoever for whomsoever, and gotta for got to or have to. We sympathize with a language in transition, because plural nouns (ie: data, military, states) that are used as a collective singular can effectively function with a singular verb; while matching to a plural verb sounds affected. We find the same distinction between a lot and alot as between a while and awhile ... and, almost no one seems able to parse the permutations of lay anymore. This issue has an excellent example, Lilliputters instead of Lilliputians, of what sends bookish pedants into paroxysmal throes! What is superficially inconsistent is often more authentic and credible. The principal idea is to communicate, and moreover to communicate something worthwhile and meaningful to an audience receptive to our mission.

Not only are we not professional littérateurs, but neither are we military experts with all the right answers; and neither are our critics. No one on staff graduated from a military academy; but all of us have studied history, read military science, have been credentialed by the Armed Forces, and have served in combat. No one else who has served doubts our authenticity, but those who have not often ask for proofs. This distinction is crucial, because it is evident in related areas. Just as a cook or an artist does not need any more proof of their expertise than their resultant creativity, likewise a veteran does not need a DD-214 to accompany his writing. It has, in fact, been argued that graduate writers are less creative than authors without formal training. Even when they've got all the facts, the aspirants seem incapable of getting the real story told properly. Without some validating experience, they don't seem to be able to tell the tale right ... with the emphasis where it belongs. The analogical contrast between sex and love, between ritual and faith, between attainment and participation is both obvious and appropriate. Telling an authentic story means getting the sense and mood, the feeling and atmosphere right. It's even harder if one is writing about historical characters with all their idiosyncrasies exposed to scrutiny, because life is not logical. What anyone should do in any given situation is debatable, but it is moot when that circumstance is as chaotic and deadly as war. Many writers have accepted this premise and composed their own vision of events, but that is neither history nor biography, and does not illustrate anything to the reader except the profound defects of the author. And many writers have related an account so limited and personal that critics have deemed it isolate ... except that these private memoirs represent the only ubiquitous story extant, which is something that can only be realized after suffering one's own transformative episode, one's own metamorphic quest, one's own paradoxical epiphany.

We have a mixed style for many reasons, not the least of which is the absence of an agenda. We have learned from the hard lessons of life that bigotry and dogmatism tend to reinforce vain ignorance and result in gory conceit; and while such PAROCHIAL sermons may entertain the choir, they do not have broad appeal or wide application ... and narrow-mindedness in battle is a recipe for defeat! As much as anyone, soldiers make mistakes, but their's are more consequential, so humility is the mark of a veteran. Hence, when a soldier's commonality or a sergeant's crudity appears beside a colonel's suavity or a general's pageantry, when the demotic is juxtaposed by the hieratic, it is due to our policy of publishing the very best works available. While our mix may be ununified, it is not unrepresentative. Our presentation reflects the variety of people who answer the call to arms in national defense, and range from plebeians and proletarians to apparatchiks and aristocrats ... each of whom has a vital story to tell. It is not our alleged bias that requires explanation, but the fact that our literary magazine is not about literature! ... literature is only the mode for expressing the considered ramifications of combat. And in that regard, we are quite unique.

It is alleged that if the predominant topic is combat, then ipso facto, we must have a premise or an agenda ... this is so axiomatic among certain critics that it could not possibly be disproved. Without pandering to anyone's conviction, there is undoubtedly something in every issue that will offend somebody! Our opposition claims that literature in the computer age is passé, and obversely, that our ghoulish audience must read through a gun sight while playing with their trigger. If we have a hidden agenda, then it is so well hidden that we ourselves can't find it. Our mission and policies make certain declarations, which entail highly developed philosophies amplified throughout history. While we shall not abridge anyone's inalienable right to believe impossible things, neither shall we serve as a partisan forum diffusing the latest doctrinaire panacea. Human conflict is a fact of daily life. Prohibiting violence will only deflect it, and banning weapons will only divert it. Refusing to consider it in open discussion only converts it into a dirty little secret that is whispered about in the dark. So as long as the hearts and minds of men find violence to be an easier solution to the ordeals of their enterprise, it will persist interminably.

As long as the proposed solutions prove futile, and the only nostrums are counterforce and escalation, the normal accretion of sophistication threatens to ravage civilization, if not extinguish our species. Because our forum is assailed from all sides, and we are unallied, we must not encourage our contenders with sympathetic treats when we have the tactical advantage! A military maxim states that combat is easier when one's opponents completely surround one's position, such that an isolated fortress is only susceptible to blockade. We are under no illusion about our adversaries ... they will use any weapon to defeat anyone who does not endorse their version of peace or their vision of paradise. We don't have to conquer them, or even debunk their ideas, since we are not advocating anything more than an open forum ... all that we need do is not succumb; to not let ourselves be conquered.

Success, as with any right endeavor, such as fighting a loosing battle or defending a lost cause, exists not in the triumphal conquest of everyone who's not exactly like us, but in surviving, in existing, in persisting. We are successful just by enduring as a venue not otherwise provided. We are a positive and progressive element in conflict resolution because our publication fills a long vacant niche. We are honorable as long as we are not impeached by guilty associations. We don't pretend to have the answers that will convince everyone to think and act in ways we approve, but we are a forum where people can talk about their experiences. As long as we're all still talking, then we're not yet fighting ... when the shooting starts, the discussion is over. As long as we are still talking, we might actually find some alternatives to war.

"Words are weapons, and it is dangerous ... to borrow them from the arsenal of the enemy."
by George Santayana, Orbiter Scripta (1936)

by Ed Staff