Saturday, August 27, 2005

Seeing in the Dark

There’s a buzz in certain pockets of the blogosphere. A buzz that needs to be a swarm.

For a while now, we have been reading Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq, amazed at his pictures and awed by his ability to move with the men he reports about. His readership probably began to reach critical mass when he posted the haunting picture of Major Bieger carrying the little Iraqi girl, Farah, wrapped in a blanket with one bloody ankle dangling from his arms. It was a breath-stopping frame — literally, it was breath-stopping, since Farah died despite the Major’s desperate attempts to save her. And she died from wounds inflicted by terrorists. She was not “collateral damage”, because the terrorists are intent on targeting civilians, including children. It is one of the ways they hope to break the will of the Iraqis and of the American soldiers and the people who support them.

Mr. Yon is an independent journalist. In fact, his singular efforts do much to restore some shine to the once-respected field of “journalism.” Not hunkered down in the safety of the Green Zone, Yon is out there in the midst of the maelstrom armed only with his camera and his gift for words. Both those weapons are taking their toll; they are making inroads into the MSM battle plan strategy to vietnamize this war. It isn’t Vietnam, it never will be. And Michael Yon is one of the generals in charge of making certain you aren’t led down that particular MSM primrose path. Remember that road, the one that ended in perdition and national shame and wasted lives, thanks to the “reporting” by the national press? We won’t go there again, no matter how loud the moonbat Greek chorus urging us to return once again to those days of yore, the 1970’s oh-so-hip self-hatred. Been there, as they say. Done that. Fini. Next song.

Here’s a brand new tune, written specifically for the blogosphere. It’s meant to be hummed, a capella. No Moaning Joanie strums here, just the buzz of the aggregate blogs, humming along till they join in a grand chorus of directed movement and noise. Here at Gates, we call it The Perfect Swarm. It is the wisdom of crowds —the blogosphere crowd — moved to action on the behalf of our country and the individuals who are making a difference.

Michael Yon is one of those individuals. Once you start reading him you have to find out what happens next. I happened upon his site late one night and stayed up in front of the screen much too late, reading the whole month’s dispatches for March. I was hooked. No doubt many of you have similar stories to tell. Rather like stumbling across The Belmont Club a year ago and being gob-smacked by Wretchard’s intelligent and far ranging analysis. They are nothing like one another, but they have the same affect on their readers: a galvanizing sense that this can be comprehended and parsed in such a way that events make sense. We may not always like the “sense” they make, but at least we’re less in the dark than we were. And the excitement generated by simply knowing more than we did before results in an increase in the distributive political intelligence in this country, an intelligence that has been retarded for years by the efforts of the information gatekeepers.

Blog Swarm!Speaking of the dark: Mr. Yon does not say how he manages to support himself in the field. He did acknowledge that Paypal donations permitted him to get a better camera; you could see the improvement in the quality of his photography immediately upon his acquistion of better equipment. Of course, even with the old camera he had an innate ability to compose his shots. And even on the run, the composition of his work is stunning. But he is literally in the dark without the night vision gear the soldiers have:
     Thursday night, a revised plan had me following some Deuce Four soldiers on a midnight raid. They had night vision gear, so they moved quickly. I had only moonlight, so I nearly broke my leg keeping up. Sleeking around Mosul under moonlight, we prowled through the pale glow until we came upon a pond near a farmhouse. Recon platoon had already raided one house and snagged some suspects, then crept away in the darkness to another target close by.
Five soldiers from Recon—Holt, Ferguson, Yates, Welch and Ross—were moving through moon-cast shadows when an Iraqi man came out from a farmhouse, his AK-47 rifle hanging by his side. Suddenly encircled by the rifles, lights and lasers of four soldiers, the man was quickly disarmed. A fifth soldier radioed for the interpreter and together they sorted out that he was a farmer who thought the soldiers were thieves skulking around his property. Recon returned the man his rifle, and started making their way back, umbral and silent across the ploughed fields.
During a halt in some trees at the edge of the field, I overheard the voice of LTC Kurilla, the commander of the Deuce Four battalion, quietly praising one of the soldiers for showing discipline in not shooting the farmer…
As you can see, Yon needs to see; he needs to be able to see at night when he goes along on patrol. Thus, a generous response from the blogosphere to Mr. Yon’s Paypal donations would permit that to happen.

Meanwhile, all you experts out there: where does one go to purchase this kind of thing? Can we get together and buy a gift certificate at Ye Local Battle Geare Shoppe so Mr. Yon can purchase his own night sight kit?

Blog Swarm!But there is a larger need for on-going support for Mr. Yon’s work. Sure, he’s going to write a book someday — provided he survives — and that will provide some income. But who knows when that will be, or when he will get enough aesthetic distance from the immediacy of battle to give us a fuller picture. Meanwhile, he has to live, however simply. It is up to us, those who are grateful for his willingness to go above and beyond the meaning of “journalist” to bring us one person’s invaluable view of things Over There.

Go over to Michael’s site and donate. Make it a regular thing, like paying the bills. Since we here at Gates of Vienna don’t tithe to our cowardly national church any longer we can contribute more than we might have previously. If you’re in same position please consider this as a possibility that it is your work, too: just one more form of spreading the good.

You will notice in Mr. Yon’s sidebar that he is the author of the book, Danger Close. Here’s part of the blurb from Amazon:
    Danger Close by Michael YonIn 1982, one month after graduating from high school, Florida native Mike Yon joined the Army to earn tuition money for college. At that time, President Reagan had begun channeling massive amounts of funds into Special Operations units such as the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Special Forces in response to the calamitous failure of a U.S. Special Ops attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. For a brief time, writes Yon, "the Army allowed kids straight out of their initial military training to try out for Special Forces"--and Yon jumped at the chance. By July of 1983, at the remarkable age of 19, Yon had survived rounds of grueling training and graduated into the Green Berets. One day later, a bizarre encounter in a Maryland bar landed Yon in jail, accused of murdering a fellow patron with his bare hands.
Reading that, can you resist? There’s another way to support his effort: buy the book.

UPDATE: Mr. Yon is getting big now and he’s had to change the rules. His previous request that his pictures be linked to and not posted was mostly ignored. People have begun to use huge chunks of his posts without their own commentary — lazy blogging — and are dissipating the impact of his stories. So now he has a new and more imperative warning posted:
     This website and blog, and all text and photographs contained herein are Copyright Michael Yon 2005. Any reproduction without authorization will be considered copyright infringement and will be pursued. You may link to this site and excerpt no more than 75 words of one dispatch for identification purposes. Any affiliation, beyond the aforementioned linking and excerpt, of Michael Yon or this website with another website, individual, company or organization will be considered in violation of Michael Yon's rights.
Contact for media and copyright inquiries: John Mason:
I violated this rule, using 212 words. But if it gets that night vision gear on Mr. Yon’s eyes, I do hope to be forgiven in time. Meanwhile, I will have to write and apologize, with a firm purpose of amendment to go and sin no more.
Send money and keep me out of trouble.