My review of Colby Buzzell’s latest essay and magazine article collection Thank You for Being Expendable is up at The Bridge, a website dedicated to “Policy, Strategy, National Security, and Military Affairs,” as their Medium site explains. The Bridge has actually run three reviews of Buzzell’s latest, so let me salute my co-reviewers, a US Army officer who goes by the nom-de-plume Angry Staff Officer and a US Air Force officer named Blair Shaefer, both of whom turn many nice phrases. The ASO, for example, writing of the senior junior enlisted faction of the military known as “E4s,” who tend to be the most reliable indicator of unit morale, writes, “if there actually was an E-4 Mafia, Colby Buzzell would be the godfather.” Shaefer describes Thank You For Being Expendable the “punk rock alternative to Service Academy and/or Ivy League-educated military officer GWOT memoirs.” Like!
I connected with The Bridge managing editor Nathan K. Finney through my involvement with the Military Writer’s Guild. MWG has been around for a while as an organization comprised (mostly) of serving and veteran writers of the serious policy and strategy analysis persuasion, but it has lately reinvigorated its recruiting efforts and extended its reach to a few of us on the artistic side of things. I’m glad to be part of MWG and eager to see where it goes. Publishing on Medium and using Slack to handle internal business has already made me feel a good twenty years younger, so things are off to an excellent start, as I see them.
Colby Buzzell, Thank You for Being Expendable, and Other Experiences. Byliner, 2015.
5 thoughts on “Colby Buzzell’s Thank You For Being Expendable”
Are Ivy League-ers or service academy grads ruling the war memoir world? Why the need for such a response?
Early on we saw several memoirs written by officers from elite schools such as Nathaniel Fink (Dartmouth), Donovan Campbell (Princeton), and Craig Mullaney (West Point), and more recently Benjamin Busch (Vassar) and Adrian Bonenburger (Yale), so it was definitely a trend for a while. More recently SEAL and other Special Operator memoirs have been more prevalent. We haven’t seen so many memoirs by enlisted veterans, but I think the best are yet to come in that regard. Not enough National Guardsmen or senior or general officers have written memoirs yet, either. I liked General Stanley McChrystal’s memoir, by the by, and also Colonel James Wilhite’s and Colonel Peter Mansour’s.
As Peter mentions, graduates of these institutions write a significant number of best selling GWOT memoirs. It isn’t surprising, they attract our best brightest with the talent and social capital necessary to both write and secure publication of their work. Who the service academies and ivies don’t attract are anti-establishment rebels who rather skip college, scratch out a living in Brooklyn (pre-hipster infiltration), and then decide to enlist as an infantryman during the height of OIF.
I appreciate reading Craig Mullaney but he couldn’t be any more different than Colby Buzzell. It’ll be a cold day in hell that Mullaney decides smoking crack is a reasonable requirement for better understanding life in the city. Buzzell’s descriptions of the Tenderloin are incredible because it’s awesome to have a veteran live in, and love, parts of America less celebrated by the mainstream.
Sure, but for every Benjamin Busch you have a Brian Turner. I appreciate Buzzell and the tenderloin district and antiestablishment as much as the next guy. I’m just not so certain the E4 mafia is still to be heard from. Without counting, it seems to me that the enlisted infantryman or special ops troop dominates the feild.
Along with Buzzell’s, the best memoir I’ve read by a junior enlisted service member has been Kayla Williams’. Each author has a laser eye for describing military culture. Busch and Turner are on another level–neither is interested in writing a chronological narrative that says the same things, only different, as anyone else. Theirs are much more imaginative and artistic processing of the experience of soldiering and war.