Saturday, January 22, 2005

Flogging the Blog

Although I've been blogging for more than a year, I seldom pay more than perfunctory attention to the culture of the blogosphere. Most of what I know is impressionistic; in fact, I doubt that I could find words to express the little that I do know. The blogosphere is evolving so rapidly that I find my way around more by intuition than system.

One thing seems clear. Shifting from my original "homemade" site to a more conventional one has substantially ramped up the number of hits I get, simply because War Historian is more easily discoverable by the numerous sites that search out and catalog blogs.

On January 14, for example, the number of visits to War Historian suddenly spiked from its normal tally of about 50 hits per day to 139. I guess that was about the time it showed up on Cliopatria's History Blog Roll. Until today I never took time to look systematically at the referring sites to this blog, faithfully recorded by Site Meter (see the very bottom of this page). When I did, I stumbled upon a few other blogs that have linked to mine. I'll return the favor by linking to theirs:

Irregular Analyses
Military Transformation
Armchair Generalist
Early Modern Notes
The Big Tent

Some just give the link, but a few include some editorial description. For instance, The Big Tent notes the appearance of "A new blog from Ohio State professor Mark Grimsley: War Historian. (Hat tip to Cliopatria.) Whether or not you agree with him on everything--and I disagree with him on a lot--Grimsley is a serious and important scholar. His first book, The Hard Hand of War, is simply brilliant. Follow the links from the blog to see his other work."

To this, one reader commented, "He has Robert E. Lee and Che on his website. He is the opposite of Big Tent in every way. Bizzarro Tom?"

As yet I have no idea what it can mean to be "the opposite of Big Tent in every way." But apparently the Big Tent has room for me, because the blogger who posted the description shot back:

For those with reading problems: "I disagree with him on a lot." Of course, I also suggested following the links at his site. Since that obviously did not happen, let me suggest everyone read and tell me if that disagrees with the Big Tent.

Site Meter got me curious to see whether anyone else out there had commented upon the blog. A Google search of "War Historian" AND "grimsley" led me to a few additional sites, most notably Chez Nadezhda, a blog intended as "a space to share conversations, books, photos and resources on foreign affairs, national security, nation-building, rule of law, political economy, history, religions and beliefs, communication and cultures."

This proved a major find, because although I've as yet had little time to read it, Tom Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map is obviously a major subject of discussion on it.

Like many blogs, Chez Nadezhda maintains an index of links to dozens of others, including War Historian--which, interestingly, is filed under "Minding the Gap," presumably a reference to PNM's "Non-Integrating Gap." But even more interesting was a comment regarding one of my December entries. Here's the permanent link to the comment. If that fails, try this. But for those too impatient to see for yourself, I give the basics below. It occurs in the middle of a long exchange about the growing influence of PNM:

There's a blog I've been meaning to point you to I think you'd find interesting. It's by Mark Grimsley, a militay historian from OSU. He has the same slight reluctance to deal with the breezy presentational aspect. But he clearly thinks Barnett's got ahold of the right agenda -- forcing the right fundamental questions to be asked.

He's reluctantly concluded that "engaging" with Barnett's evolving frame is in fact something important where he can make a contribution to his profession and in turn to the broader question of the US military's role in the world. His longish post in which he describes how he came to that decision is a fascinating episode in the "emotional journeys" of an intellectual, but also quite a case for why Barnett's agenda is important in Grimsley's eyes.

His ruminations of the purpose of military history in the broader scheme of things are also quite intriguing. Just hope he posts more frequently on what he's thinking and up to.


Interesting take on it, and one I hadn't yet considered. Thanks for the tip!
Followed by this from the initial discussant:

Ask your Prof about Grimsley. I'm sure they know one another -- by rep if not personally -- given their academic interests. Grimsley is big into the Civil War & RE Lee -- whose photo shares pride of place at the top of his blog along with Che. I'm not quite sure what that combo represents!
(Longtime readers can probably already guess the reason I use the juxtaposed photos of Lee and Che as the blog's logo. Newcomers and/or the metaphor-challenged should browse the entries archived under A Postcolonial Military History?, and consider the very different causes for which Che and Lee fought.)


nadezhda said...

Hope you didn't find my comments to have reflected a total misapprehension of your earlier posts.

To explain why you've been stuck in "the Gap," which is a badge of distinction, BTW.

I found your remarks to be some of the few, coming from a real-world angle, to ask what the US military "is for" in the much larger framework of the efficacy of certain types of violence in the world today and given the different sorts of challenges we may be facing in the coming years.

Most of the folks who ask that sort of question are off in a neverland of either "one-worldism" or "draw up the castle gates." Thankfully, you strike me as neither from the little I've read so far.

The lions'share of the military and national security websites and blogs that appear on our "blogroll" are more interested in how to make the military do better, in one fashion or another, or in the related domestic political issues. Each has a preferred orientation, whether it's by better understanding the threat, by reorganizing, by building better weapons, by repositioning our forces, by more boots on the ground, by fighting smarter, etc etc. They've got lots of interesting information and indeed insights, but at the end of the day it's all rather limited.

Barnett is asking the better questions, and astonishingly is starting to change --albeit at the margin -- the vocabulary in which others are asking questions. So I say, more power to him. I hope others join the conversation and challenge him. Make the questions better.

If I may quote myself from another part of the comments thread you kindly quoted, here's the reason I find Barnett interesting. From your comments, you seem to share some of his perspective on the need for a different approach to much of current discussion. Again, I apologize if I'm just projecting my own predelictions and biases into your comments.

Barnett is trying to do a pretty awesome thing -- stimulate the development of a new "metanarrative" for the US and the world, since our old one is clearly out-of-date, stale, inadequate and misleading. If your old way of talking and thinking, your shared mental picutures, are producing a discourse that's identifying the wrong (old) issues and asking wrong (old) questions, your not likely to get to answers that are very helpful. In fact, you're likely to get to the wrong answers.

He's trying to take the best of the thinking and debates going on in academe and the real world of the military and international business, integrate and synthesize them, and produce a new way of talking about this stuff. Now since I think we desparately need a new metanarrative, and the one he's proposing is a lot closer to what I believe would be healthy than, e.g. "democracy and freedom" or "free markets" or "unilateral vs multilateral" or "globalization" or "hegemon" or "empire" I'm willing to get engaged in his effort of changing how we think about and talk about this stuff.
I was particularly struck by your brief musings a week or so ago on the elites who benefit from the way things are currently structured. I'd say one of our big problems is we have a lot of folks in charge of key areas of the public sector who just can't imagine thinking about these issues any way other than how they do today. And for those who are willing to take on conventional thinking, the structure of the institutions within which they operate make it difficult for their views to have a major impact.

I'm not sure, however, that it's the case in the business and finance world that deals with the global economy. They are rethinking and reimagining the world all the time. If they're trapped in a calcified institution, that institution isn't going to be around for very long.

One of the noteworthy things about Barnett is that, from the perspective of someone who's out to remake the US military, he's taken on board some very different viewpoints of the global financial capitalists of the bond markets. He's recognized -- and makes quite explicit -- that we don't have a single power elite with a monolithic set of vested interests. We've got a collection of elites who rub along most of the time, but sometimes their interests don't align well at all.

In my crystal ball I see Pres Bush (or certainly his successor of whichever party) likely to find those tensions among elites coming to the fore more and more. There's a large number of captains of multinational industry and finance who have had to bite their tongue since the first moment that the Iraqi adventure appeared on the horizon. The editorial pages of the FT and the Economist are far more representative of their views than those of the WSJ. If we have a major economic slowdown/crisis with a hard dollar landing for example, those tensions are going to get much more prominent. I for one think we'd have better policy in both the making and execution if different groups of elites didn't "own" their specific baliwick. If we had a great deal more cross-fertilization of perspectives and a better understanding of the interrelatedness of the various elements that make up our globalized world.

There endeth today's lesson.

This is a regular hobby-horse of mine -- see my recent post suggesting what the Democrats need is a Policy Center for Epistemology and Rhetoric -- only slightly tongue in cheek.

If you haven't dipped into Barnett, the place to go for what he's thinking today isn't his book. His thinking is quite openly in a constant state of evolution, as it should be. Several of us discuss what to read/watch of Barnett in the comments you linked to.

BTW, many thanks for the link back. In the past few hours, you'll be interested to know your visitors have decided to take a peak at what we're chatting about on our site. It's not an Insta-lanche (blog-speak for a link from Instapundit that crashes one's feeble servers with the volume). But hey, you can now tell your students, "I drive traffic." Door's always open chez Nadezhda. I hope some of your visitors will join our conversation from time to time.

And now I have to go do the homework you assigned on Che and REL. Feh, I'm too old for homework.

nadezhda said...

Oh, in case you were wondering. The Prof referred to in the comment you quoted is Andrew Bacevich from BU where my interlocuteur is completing his final semester as an IR major. This semester he's taking his second course with Bacevich -- which I find a tribute to Bacevich as a teacher as well as author.

Mark G. said...

Many, many thanks for such a fascinating and informative comment. I've begun looking through Chez Nadezhda whenever I get a chance; also Liberals against Terrorism and TerrorWiki, with which I gather you're involved. And I think you're right--Barnett is making an impact.

Mark G. said...
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Mark G. said...

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