combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2005

Parthian Shot
a fleeting editorial dart inviting chase

Attention to Orders

An idea, whether simple or complex, original or derivative, is enough to commence something. One attempts, to the best of their ability, to anticipate problems and avoid pitfalls, to do the best possible job, but the battle plan never survives the initial enemy contact ... so changes and adjustments are made. This is as true of relationships and recreations as of vocations and combat.

This literary magazine was inspired by other publications, but it is not like them, and is becoming less like them as we proceed. The magic of the InterNet obviated the necessity of pounding the pavement in search of a friendly press, and may eventually scrap our aspirations for a dual edition altogether, but we have depended upon a corps of loyal associates to produce anything at all worthwhile. We have not hesitated to browbeat and twist arms, but we have at least been spared the infra dig of a Dorothy Parker riposte to Harold Ross when asked why she had not written something for his magazine: "Because the pencil was already being used."

For anyone with enough brains to crawl under his helmet during a barrage, encountering the talent that walks in the door after the open for business sign has been crudely hung over the information superhighway is a truly humbling experience. The number of fine and thoughtful writers who are willing to help with someone else's project in exchange for an embarrassed "thanks" and a warm handshake is quite remarkable. For this cynical old paratrooper, it bespeaks well of that silent majority of good hearts and decent souls who are all around us.

The deadline of any publication is not unlike a periodic crisis ... knowledge doesn't attenuate its impending doom any more than the executioner's appointment alleviates the denouement. Just like skirmishes integrated into a war, each separate crisis is a distillation process that renders results and reduces the effective force. After a firefight or other crisis, one has learned some things about the universe and about one's comrades, whether one wants to know these things or not. Not only does one learn what works, but also who works ... who and what are trustworthy. We may regret these discoveries, but we ignore them at our peril. One of the dirty little secrets of combat that's rarely discussed, even among veterans, is that very few people get up immediately when their leader charges forward ... they hesitate fractionally on the cusp, and only commit when there's a preponderance. This stratification also exists in bureaucracy and business, where rationalization is not as hazardous, but the absence of moral courage is also a deterrent to their productivity. Survival seems to reinforce security, but sometimes the only way to survive is to risk everything ... and that makes survival even more precious. We have, perforce, suffered casualties.

And if one is paying attention, is keeping track of the little things that make the big things work, then one learns, or re-learns, that the old techniques are still the best, so they get dusted-off and tuned-up for new applications. The value of change is that whatever is new refreshes, stimulates, and inspires that which is staid. We are cautioned about the best laid plans, about making haste slowly, and about sweating more than bleeding. Some comrades have reminded us of the flying geese metaphor, wherein the formation stays on course but the lead is rotated through the ranks ... a practice we followed in combat that substituted the pointman, because nobody can stay keen all of the time. Our staff gravitated into an enclave, developed into a conclave, and persist as an exclave ... whatever works! The shakedown has taken longer than anticipated (perhaps because we're older), but the crew has now settled-in for the long march.

A magazine, by definition, is a collection of items, but its periodicity is both its strength and weakness, for it can only publish what is current, even when that substance may be distorted. One of the virtues of an online magazine (and we are not the only publication to discover this asset) is its ability to catalogue and archive as well as disseminate, which tends to ameliorate the defect of immediacy, also shared by broadcast media. The electronic format makes it convenient for the reader to research policies or plot trends, and be independent of interpretive journalism. A literary magazine is not a news source, but it is affected by news, especially if the focus of the magazine is on combat, and there is war being reported on the horizon. Our e-mag website exists to host the COMBAT literary magazine, but it also gives us an opportunity to archive the back issues, to catalogue reprints, and to publish specialized materials. The image map logo on our homepage will take anyone directly to the current issue, or the metapage will allow access anywhere with only two clicks, but if someone wants to find a veteran's group, a government agency, or a slang expression, then those features are also available ... much much more than any print magazine could offer.

In this, and forthcoming issues, the magazine will reorganize some sections and expand the organization of others. Two new departments have been added to our quarterly fare: a column on writing style and a review of books germane to our genre. We are pleased to welcome these contributing editors to our volunteer staff, and we plan to augment their contributions by the addition of other adept colleagues ... a chaplain, a psychologist, and a lawyer sensitive to military affairs. We are also in the process of recruiting judges for the newly instituted Editors' Choice awards to be funded by the staff in recognition of the better than we had any right to expect writing we have received ... cut me, do I not bleed; write to me, do I not laugh and cry?!

We are also pleased to host a glossary of infantry terms from a talented editor working at the Infantry School. It not only supplements the official Department of Defense dictionary but also amplifies our own eclectic MilTerms gloss. We are in the process of composing lexicons on climbing, heraldry, and cutlery, with parachuting terms being the most recently posted. We have setup the framework for the selective bibliography, and will limit its contents to the most worthy titles representative of each subdivision.

We intend, by publishing supplemental material, to expand our reader's perspective and to extend the lease on previously published works; but in cataloguing some reprints, we realized that the separation of selections was more arbitrary than definitive, and that the song lyrics were divided only by date, so we have begun the process of redistribution wherein the appendix will be consolidated into the library. Then, as time permits, we shall add further works to the library for contrast with the e-mag. The samizdat section of satire and flummery shall remain discrete, if not discreet.

For prospective contributors we have increased the maximum word count for stories and essays to 8000 words and poetry to 800 words, with a minimum submission of 100 words. Our objective is to produce solid and secure stand-alone works, not short-takes, for the edification of our audience. We agree with the contention of some authors that there are themes and characterizations that need more development space, so it is now available; but we are also cognizant of the potential abuse such latitude affords some weak writers, who lack the discipline or craft to compose a concise and cogent piece ... we are not afraid to recommend revision whenever necessary. And for those who place their work in first serialization with us, we have now made the publication agreement (PA) available in plain ASCII text for downloading ... please ignore the error message that MS-Windows generates with this document ... it really is uncompressed.

This re-organization, based upon a reinterpretation of emphasis, reminded me of Ayn Rand's objectivism, where something only acquires validity by imputation. The fact is that the ancient Greeks and Hindus were (are) right: a thing has qualities of being or properties of meaning depending upon its phase of development, and upon the stage of development of anything else surrounding it. Fooling ourselves into beliefs is one of the easiest things we do, that our associations do, that our context does. A long time ago, in their infinite wisdom, hoary milicrats assigned this once fierce young lion to diligently sit at a desk and dutifully revise the land navigation manual when his greatest aspiration was a blaze of glory. After a couple of combat tours, some necessary maturation, and some sober education in the history of man's inhumanity to man, he re-valued manual writing as a finer legacy than blood spilt on a distant ground. Those pretty little ribbons are attractive, then unimportant, even meaningless. It's the same for a sheepskin and other symbolic attainments. It is not that they are outgrown, but that one realizes that true knowledge or genuine experience needn't be confirmed by the faithful. If one is fortunate enough to live long enough to acquire some insight, then one might be able to distinguish what is transient and what is enduring, and which is worthier.

Web publishing permits alteration with development, and so accretion will be likewise with sponsorship. In addition to everything else, we are still seeking patronage by a business angel or white knight, but not just for the magazine ... we're also interested in benefactors for prizes and scholarships. This magazine exists to connect the past with the future, and a vital part of that preparation is the cultivation of intelligence and the encouragement of awareness. Knowing how to think about solving their problems makes people stronger, and gives them the opportunity to be better. Our organization and legal status is relatively adaptable to the needs and interests of a sympathetic sponsor, but we shall not compromise our commitment to this topic. It is a subject that has already cost us dear.

by Ed Staff