skip to navigation skip to content skip to footer

Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

AJDSS Volume 2 Number 2

Review

Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War

Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds)

Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019

Reviewed by Imogen Mathew



Published online: 3 December 2020

EXTRACT

As a lecturer in professional military education on the Australian Command and Staff Course, my day-to-day work involves helping Defence personnel with their academic writing. Many of my students left secondary school early to join the forces; a quarter of our cohort comes from an ESL background; and those with a tertiary education favour STEM disciplines. In this context, writing an essay on the Peloponnesian War or Social Identity Theory is hard work: students must produce thesis statements and topic sentences; their writing must be clearly signposted, follow a logical structure, and be supported by appropriate and credible evidence. There are important reasons to write in this way, but my goal is not to create league upon league of scholars. Rather, I hope to imbue my students with a passion for writing that extends beyond the marking rubric to something more personal and long-lasting. And in this, the spirit that animates my daily work is shared by the editors of Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War. 1

Why We Write is an anthology of essays published under the aegis of the Military Writers Guild in late 2019. Randy Brown and Steve Leonard edit the collection; both are veterans who have parlayed their military experience into successful writing careers. Brown has published several poetry collections as well as embedding with US forces as a civilian journalist in Afghanistan. Leonard is a lecturer at the University of Kansas and a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. Between them, Brown and Leonard have gathered together a multitude of voices (military, ex-military and civilian), all of whom explore the meaning writing has for them in their professional and personal lives. The contributors to this collection are predominately US-based, although there is a sprinkling of Australian authors. At 61 essays, the number of contributions is quite high for an edited collection; and, coming in at a total of 225 pages, the length of each essay is correspondingly short. Yet length constitutes one of this collection’s chief attractions: these bite-sized essay morsels are accessible and engaging, and their brevity allows readers to dip in and out of the anthology with ease. This collection thus has a broad appeal, and will be of interest to civilians and military professionals alike: a relatively low time investment (say, an empty 5 minutes between zoom meetings) will yield a highly satisfying reading experience.

Many of the essays engage directly with the question ‘Why I write?’, and the answers are as individual as each author. Some contributors emphasise the professional benefits that accrue to those who write: for Mick Ryan, ‘being a better writer makes me a more thoughtful leader.’ 2 In other essays, writing represents a powerful therapeutic ‘tool for processing loss, grief, and change.’ 3 Some write to ensure forgotten voices are heard: for instance, Hugh Martin writes to create a ‘more multi-vocal, polyphonic tapestry’ of the Iraq War. 4 There are those who write for the ‘rush,’ 5 ‘to create a legacy,’ 6 or ‘to give [their] life meaning.’ 7 Writing may not come easy, 8 but it is as essential as a good night’s sleep. 9

Read the full article as a pdf

 

Documentary-note: Imogen Mathew, ‘The contending domestic and international imperatives of Indonesia’s China challenge’, Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, [online] 2020, 2(2):286-290. https://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/AJDSS/volume2-number2/review-why-we-write.asp

Author-date (Harvard): Mathew, I., 2020. ‘The contending domestic and international imperatives of Indonesia’s China challenge’, Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, [online] 2(2), 286–290. Available at: <https://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/AJDSS/volume2-number2/review-why-we-write.asp>


1 Jonathan Baxer, 'Dreaming of Ishtar In the Land of Two Rivers' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 168.


2 Mick Ryan, 'Writing and Our Profession', in Rivers' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 44


3 Colin D Halloran 'The Warrior-Poet and an Unexpected Journey' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 201.


4 Hugh Martin, 'An Iraq War Veteran Reads the Iraq War' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 208


5 Carmen Gentile, 'Some True Lies about Conflict Reporting' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 82


6 Joe Byerly, 'Pressing the Button' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 16


7 Baxter, 'Dreaming of Ishtar', p 68


8 Tom McDermott, 'Armour Against Atrocity: Writing to Find One's Moral Compass' in Randy Brown and Steve Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press LLC, Johnston IA, 2019, p 93


9 Matt Condon, 'Writing Myself to Sleep' in Brown and Leonard (eds), Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, pp 70-5