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Ceremonial Storytelling

Ritual and Narrative in Post-9/11 US Wars


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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4. Beyond the Call of Duty: War Experience, Relationship-Building, and Community Service


I feel filled with a terrible resolve to make [my blog] a part of the fight, as well as a means to improving the situation here. I know, big dreams and an overblown sense of my importance. But without dreams, what are we?1

The previous chapter explored cultural practices of community-building in milblogs and how, when they are perceived as narrative rituals, their cultural work and their role in the negotiation of the social contract becomes evident. It highlighted that, while deployment places soldiers and their relatives in a considerable stress situation, their frequent reference to the social contract in milblog conversations helps bridge the gap between civilian and military life both on a personal and a collective level. Exchanges between milbloggers and their audience negotiate the often conflicting realities of life as a civilian and as a deployed soldier in a war zone as they help both sides interpret their experience and make sense of the war. These exchanges are, thus, cultural artifacts that generate, negotiate, and circulate knowledge and values. This circulation affects people beyond those who are actively engaged in the milblogosphere; it helps shape cultural practices and identity. The production and circulation of knowledge and values in the blogs, as we have seen, often follows particular scripts that engender corresponding self-conscious and ritualistic performances. The mutual awareness, acknowledgment, and appreciation expressed in these scripts symbolically reaffirm and enact the social contract between civil society and the military. Blogger-audience interaction, thus, marks...

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