Revealing Mistakes

Yesterday I tweeted, in response to the helicopter crash in Afghanistan: “Thoughts are with the families of the Seals, Air Force members, Afghan troops and others killed in the helicopter crash today. RIP.”

I wrote “Seals” without giving it a second thought, not realizing or remembering that SEALs is an an acronym for members of Navy Sea, Air and Land teams. I could probably explain that away as a typo or an accident, but it’s well understood that a failure to use the proper term is offensive to members of the military. How casually I made such a fundamental error reveals how little I really know about military operations. This, in turn, makes me question my ability to keep writing about foreign policy or national security in this space.

Part of the purpose of opening this blog and focusing, at its outset, on art—film, comics, television, music—was that I felt I could write about these things confidently and competently. While I have serious limitations in my understanding of comics, I’m at least conscious of them, and I think I can write about film and television with a real grasp of the medium. More than that, there’s very little in the world more useless than passive art criticism.

I hope to in the next few years develop my knowledge and expertise of legal, military, and security issues in order to be able to write about them in the same way that I can approach those other subjects. Yet at this point in time I simply don’t have that ability, as there’s too much that I don’t know.

This poses a major problem going forward. One option would be to simply not write about any of these subjects until I know fully what I’m talking about, so as to avoid saying ignorant or inaccurate things. But I care about these subjects a great deal and want to continue to develop my thinking about them, and writing (with a small readership) is one of the best ways to force your learning along.

Since I don’t want to stop writing about them, then, I’m going to need to err on the side of caution. More precisely, I will have to start treating these subjects in a distinctly different way than I would write about art. For one, I’ll need to avoid putting non-fiction subjects through the ringer of odd connections and somewhat elaborate comparisons that I’m fond of doing with artistic media. So as much as I may enjoy, say, the framework I developed in “Jeremiah & Augustine,” I’ll be moving very far from that in upcoming posts. And while this will lead to pieces of writing that will have more questions than answers, or will sometimes offer very banal conclusions, I believe this is necessary in order to build up a proper understanding of these issues, so that I can trust in what I write and in my grasp of the material.

The rhythm of this blog will also need to change. I will be moving away from the somewhat book review-y tone of my only two national security posts so far, as it’s become very clear that I don’t have the relevant expertise to assess them on their merits. Instead, I’ll be trying to make use of this as a space to write more frequently, and in shorter posts, about small pieces of the much larger security picture. Expect to see more posts looking at shorter news and magazine articles, while the posts on full-length books will keep the focus on treating the facts presented, identifying the basic framework, and keeping my own conclusions out of it. In the meantime, what I write about art can and will continue to have a more relaxed posting schedule.

As I find my footing for this new style, this may result in some posts that resemble a child learning to walk. Please bear with me, and I’ll do my best to make progress as quickly as I can.

My hope is that this can mark a low point and that I can learn from this going forward. Again, my apologies.

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