Mightier than the Sword

Among the many challenging courses that I have taken at Denison, one which stands out was a seminar on “Iraq Post-2003” which was meant to be an overview of the events which transpired in the wake of 9/11 pertaining to relations between the US and Iraq, culminating in the invasion and the horrendous aftermath.  To this day, the content that I am still able to recall from the course, the readings that are still somewhat clear-ish in my mind, were from the book Baghdad Burning written by Riverbend. I have chosen to write about it here in the context of blogging as public address because (drumroll please) Baghdad Burning was originally written as a blog and was so successful and well-read that it was published as two books -volumes I and II.

This blog, which is online to this day (was last updated in October of 2007) is a shining example of blogging as public address.  It is authored by a woman who was 24 years old at the time of the attacks and worked in IT.  As her country, city, and life crumbled around her in the wake of the American invasion, she found a way to vent her emotions by blogging under the alias “Riverbend”.  Though she admits that she did not know at first who would ever read her blog or what direction it might take, she managed to make a rhetorical situation out of a war.

What dominates the blog is a first-hand account of life in Baghdad from a true Baghdadi individual.  She describes the horrifying changes to daily life, how she lost her job because it was no longer safe for women to leave home unattended by a man, how terrified civilians were not only of “insurgents” but of the American soldiers who, unable to tell friend from foe, would often terrorize civilians even in their homes.  At first, there were doubts voiced by her readers that she was even Iraqi at all -her English is, after all, quite perfect, and most Americans wouldn’t expect this kind of account from an Iraqi woman.

Soon enough, however, the blog became a window by which American readers could observe the happenings in Baghdad depicted not by journalists or politicians but by a civilian.  The rhetorical situation became the cultural misunderstanding which was rampant between Iraqis and Americans.  She explained what life was like in Baghdad before the war and what had changed, often praising the spirit of the American efforts while deriding certain methods.   She offered explanation for Iraqi actions and opinions, providing enough cultural context that her readers could understand the significance of certain events.  For example, when American forces cut down the trees which lined the median of the road leading from the city to the major airport for “security reasons”, she explained the outrage by detailing the significance of those trees to national and religious history.  When most of America read or heard that a university’s library had been demolished among half-a-dozen other buildings, those who read Riverbend’s blog were aware of the thousands of ancient relics that had been in that library as well as the position that the University had held as a point of pride in the community of Baghdad.

All things considered, I consider this blog to be the ultimate example of using blogging as a vehicle for public address.  Using only words, Riverbend was able to draw out the more sensitive aspects of a war being fought in bullets and bombs.  Rather than perpetuating violence, she created understanding, thereby definitively demonstrating that the pen is and will always be mightier than the sword.

Julia M.

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