I started blogging on this site five years ago yesterday. It took me several tries fiddling with the FTP target address, if I recall correctly; at any rate, I still remember the pleased “hey! it worked!” feeling I got when I saw my first post.
It’s a memory tempered these days by what I feel when I re-read that post and others like it early on. There’s nothing all that wrong with that first one, but still if I were to go back in time and take over the keyboard again, I wouldn’t write it or many of the ones that follow that way now, and I might not have written some of them at all.
Still, there they all are. My blog, to me, is half an argument with myself, half a message in a bottle to the rest of the world. In its daily guise, like any journal, it seems declaratory and fairly certain in its statements. Over time, it becomes something else, a journey — and one I sometimes read between my fingers.
It’s actually been a fair amount of work and trouble: late nights reading things, writing things, re-writing them, re-writing them again and yet again; sometimes feeling (and sometimes being told) I’m spending too much time on it.
Has it been worth it? Has it been worth anything?
Given my opinions these days, that’s questionable, if influence is the measure of value. For one thing, I’m not all that widely read; for another, that’s not surprising, given my tacks back and forth on Iraq in particular. Starting out leaning against an Iraq war for many of the right reasons, I changed my mind after a long hiatus; one of my most widely read posts was the February 2003 “With regrets — for war on Saddam.” Seemingly independent reports about Iraqi WMD from Germany and arguments like those in “The Threatening Storm” had helped convince me there was a real threat, and that the war was the best way to solve it. Regardless of my sincerity, I was wrong. A lot of people linked to that post, and a lot of people read it and commented* on it, both here and elsewhere.
I’ve since distanced myself from it and rebutted it, at least in part. But that’s been to the tune of perhaps dozens of readers, not hundreds upon hundreds. And I was more than just wrong; in particular, I hadn’t stuck by my own demands for convincing proof of WMD, and my “come what may” line was particularly callow in view of what indeed has come for that country and our soldiers fighting there.
Looking back, I see how furious and on edge I was after 9/11. In part, my trust in the institutions of this country betrayed me — I believed, even of Bush and Cheney, that they would recommend war only when it was truly the least worst option. Wrong. But I’m also afraid that although I would have denied it then, events like 9/11, the anthrax attacks, and the sniper attacks around DC the following year made me more and more jumpy, and more and more open to poorly conceived “solutions” like Iraq. I don’t think I was alone in that. A lot of people who started blogging after 9/11 — the so-called “warblogger” cohort — never really got over it; a better description for many of them may be “post traumatic stress bloggers.”
Writing like this can be, then, a bit of a dangerous hobby. A problem I’ve mentioned before is that it’s easy to become committed not just to the position, but to your public arguments and stand for it. It’s harder for me, at least, to consider unwinding from something I’ve argued for in writing than from something I say in a conversation. I wonder how many bloggers find themselves trapped in their own arguments, unwilling to alienate particular readers or an imagined readership, and therefore unwilling to reverse course.
At the time, I also aspired to bridge a European-American perceptions and risk assessment gap I saw; I would frequently write about German reactions in particular, since I speak the language. While some of that was to the good — I think that on the whole, my German bloggers series posts have been worthwhile — I also spent time and effort arguing with German bloggers and their readers at their sites about U.S. Iraq policy in particular. Given that I was basically wrong about it, that’s fairly painful to recall — public diplomacy in the service of a poor cause.
So I’m reminded that humility on my part is in order, certainly more than I like to display. I was against torture, but at first ignored what news there was as “bad apples” at worst — including news e-mailed to me about “American Taliban” John Walker’s treatment, which was a pretty clear sign of trouble ahead. I was less of a stickler than I am now, taking issue with this or that, but reckoning that little things like hoods, or a little sleep interruption, or the ad hoc Guantanamo system were not so bad — details got slightly wrong in hot pursuit perhaps, but not the tip of some iceberg of malfeasance and coolly chosen wrongdoing. Of course, I could not have been more wrong in that, either.
It took Abu Ghraib to viscerally remind me of what I can and can not stand for; I intuited and then confirmed to my (dis)satisfaction that there was much more and worse than what I’d seen. That’s when I pretty much pulled out my red card, once and for all, on an administration I admittedly never had all that much use for. Beware of people who call for changes in the rule books when the game is going badly. Beware of yourself and be aware of yourself if you decide to consider those rule changes.
For all the regrets, shouldas, wouldas, and couldas, I think this blog has been a decent effort. Realizing that I can’t be and don’t want to be a “full service” comment-on-everything blog, I’ve tended to settle on issues and themes that I care about, (e.g., Abu Ghraib etc., Wal-Mart, the “TexasGate” redistricting saga, verified voting, Srebrenica, Katrina, global warming) and come back to them repeatedly. I’ve tried not to let other stories I’ve followed drop either, via the clunkily-named “Department of followups” posts. I’ve also tried to not be too much of a scold — how could I be, given my own inconsistencies — and to lighten things up with a little humor now and then.
In conclusion, thanks for reading, for bearing with my long-winded posts, and for commenting when the spirit moves you. Thanks in particular to Paul, eRobin, Gary, Nell, anonymousgf, Karen, and Brett, who are frequent visitors and valued commenters these days, and who I think of as friends whether I’ve met them or not; likewise for Jens, Sven, Scott, and Peter, who drop by occasionally from overseas; and likewise for those like Tom T. who dropped out over the years, possibly as I became too shrill for their taste.
Others drop by regularly as well, I think, but choose not to comment — although they’re welcome to regardless of whether they disagree with me. Other than my own mental grades for posts, comments are how I tell whether I’m writing anything worth the trouble of reading; although I’ve sometimes failed badly, I do welcome opposing views.
But mainly, thanks for dropping in and reading. While this blog has been mainly for my own benefit — I think the practice has improved my writing a little — I hope it’s also occasionally been worth it to you.
* Although the comments are missing because of a glitch in the prior system, I still have them, and hope to get them reconnected with Haloscan’s help.
Selected Iraq posts:
Selected detainee treatment posts:
- Nov 2001: Military tribunals — against.
- Jan 2002: Augstein demands air conditioning for Camp X-Ray — nettled by German criticism, I claim there’s “nothing to be ashamed of” there.
- Mar 2003: Update — where I stand — as noted above, staying my Iraq war course, but no to torture.
- May 2004: Shared responsibility — Abu Ghraib not just soldiers’ fault, but mine for ignoring warning signs; open up Guantanamo. Part of a week or so of writing about nothing else.
- Jan 2005: A dialogue with Jeff Jarvis: torture by Iran, torture by us — let’s tend to the beam in our own eye first.
- Jun 2005: Look pretty similar to me — in the wake of Durbin’s remarks, I compare reports of KGB, Nazi, and US practices.
- Jul 2005: Our sacred Honor — July 4th thoughts.
- Jul 2005: Torture commission, detainee treatment votes expected soon — call to contact Senators on these issues; heavily visited thanks to Henley, Tushnet, Poor Man.
- Sep 2005: My 9/11 Freedom Perp Walk — I’m arrested for demonstrating as “Abu Ghraib Guy” at the 9/11 “Freedom Walk” at the Pentagon. Ironic, huh.