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Ceremonial Storytelling

Ritual and Narrative in Post-9/11 US Wars

Series:

Frank Usbeck

US society has controversially debated civil-military relationships and war trauma since the Vietnam War. Civic activists today promote Indigenous warrior traditions as role models for non-Native veteran reintegration and health care. They particularly stress the role of ritual and narrative for civil-military negotiations of war experience and for trauma therapy. Applying a cultural-comparative lens, this book reads non-Native soldiers’ and veterans’ life writing from post-9/11 wars as «ceremonial storytelling.» It analyzes activist academic texts, «milblogs» written in the war zone, as well as «homecoming scenarios.» Soldiers’ and veterans’ interactions with civilians constitute jointly constructed, narrative civic rituals that discuss the meaning of war experience and homecoming.

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3. Milblogs as Rituals: War, Citizenship, and the Sacred

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Once he filed his after action report, Corporal Jennings willed his exhausted body over to the camp’s Internet kiosk to continue his daily ritual. Mentally and physically drained, he mustered enough energy to recount the details of the day’s event to inform those back home on the war’s progress. In his mind, this was a duty as solemn as the one he took an oath to uphold when he enlisted.

And so he sat down to write his military web log…1

Introduction

The above quote from a 2007 Naval War College report on the surge in private, social media use among military personnel is part of the narrative, in-medias-res beginning of a formal document. It introduces its readers to the everyday life of a US soldier deployed to Iraq in an informal, essayistic voice, casually mentioning the hardships of war and depicting life in a military camp. It also invokes a vernacular understanding of ‘ritual’ in the author’s reference to blogging: To many, ritual seems to be an activity that is of some importance to those involved, yet is so repetitive that they often perform it without thinking, even merely endure it when they are “mentally and physically drained.” However, unwittingly and implicitly, the author’s narrative of the exhausted milblogger also reveals a cultural understanding of ‘ritual’ as deeply significant: The soldier considers his “daily ritual” of reporting on the war in his blog “a solemn duty,” as important as his...

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