Diane Maye is a former Air Force officer, defense industry professional, and academic. She is a PhD candidate in Political Science at George Mason University where she studies Iraqi politics. Diane is an associate member of the Military Writers Guild. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.
Last summer I watched everything I worked for fall apart. I once held fistfuls of sand in my hands, but like my memories, each grain had slipped away into nothingness. Going to Baghdad wasn’t nearly as hard as coming back from Baghdad. Now, I only knew one Baghdad, lying in repose most days, but when stirred, a hypnotic dervish whirling through my daydreams. Awakening the beast meant leaving the land of the living and voyaging to a shadowy netherworld haunted by fallen comrades, moments of tremendous exhilaration clouded by fanatical rage, and pieces of my soul I no longer recognized.
Iraqi summers were long and murky. Days were stifling, the heat reaching up all around, choking us from within. A thick layer of dust and grit would cloud the entire atmosphere, an orange haze blanketing the villainous scorch of the desert sun. And at night, soft sand would fall like ashes, concealing our world beneath a coverlet of fine talc. When the torrid fury of summer finally withdrew, winter rushed in, short and mild. Some days were so clear that when the dust lifted, we could look out for miles, consuming the magnificence of the fortress around us.
The main garrison was positioned inside Radwaniyah, a luxurious presidential resort for the old regime. Radwaniyah’s lavish palaces, residential villas, picturesque mosques, and towering monuments served as a testament to its original splendor. Al Faw, the Water Palace, stood in the center of it all, a bridge apart, beset by swaying palms and aquamarine lakes that shimmered like millions of tiny diamonds under the sun. Inside, the bastion was kept cool, its large iron doors opening into a stately vestibule illuminated by elaborate crystal chandeliers atop high Abbasid arches, and shiny, veined granite floors below. Our offices encircled a grand rotunda in the center of the palace, surrounded by columns of breccia rosada marble. There, in the heart of the foyer, a monstrous throne commanded the attention of all who walked by. Looking we could see a canopy carved into latticework, thousands of intricate girih tiles in complex mosaic patterns, hand-painted in bright pastels. The curvature of the dome added a mysterious acoustic effect; from across the grand hall one could hear rumors and secrets in voices as soft as a whisper. And outside the palace gateway, giant pillars stood on cornerstones of megalomania, each engraved with the initials of Saddam Hussein, whose days of glory stood abandoned to the hum of generators in leagues of dreary fields occupied by soldiers, concrete walls, and parades of tanks and armor.
Remembering Baghdad is also remembering explosions, the foul stench of corpses rotting in the street, burning waste and refuse, and the veil of fear. Not the fear of combat or carnage, but the fear of not knowing, not understanding, and never touching life again. Its remembering comrades and brothers, their cruel silence after parting, and Death’s surreal and perpetual craving. In the shadow of Al Faw lied the underbelly of stolen dreams. Like the defiler that steals a child’s imagination, sense of wander, and innocence, Baghdad gave refuge to the darkness of broken men; a ferocious inferno, bloody, savage, and cursed.
I have been deeply honored to be included as an associate member with this truly excellent group of military writers. These are my top four reasons for joining the Military Writers Guild.
No. 1: Help.
I would love to share some of my experiences from Iraq in a meaningful way — a way that would allow the next generation to really understand the depth and history of the country. But, the meaning of what I’m trying to say tends to get lost in the words. I ask myself, “am I conveying the proper sentiment here?” “Are my words truly reflective of my experience?” “How can I state this better?” Writing is difficult. I am accustomed to academic writing, but not literary, policy, or current events writing. Bottom line: I am here because I need help.
No. 2: Feedback.
I am a big fan of military blogs and news mediums — mostly for the discussions that take place in the comments section. I have found that sometimes the discussions in the comments section are just as informative as the original piece. This group is well read on military topics from many angles: historical, strategic, literary, political, technical, and current affairs-based. I joined the MWG because of the very clever and well-informed people it has attracted. The guild has a wide range of expertise: military spouses, combat veterans, war college graduates, and published authors to name a few.
No. 3: Perspective.
I truly enjoy reading what my peers have to say. I love foreign policy and military strategy, but I’ve been out of the military myself for several years. When I was in the military, I found that some academics tended to live in “ivory towers.” I vowed to never become that person. Now that I’m an in an academic field, I have a duty to live up to that promise. Writing about foreign policy and sharing ideas with professionals who are actually working in the field is a great way to gain perspective and never lose sight of the real reason for academic literature.
No. 4: Venting, then taking action.
Much like MWG associate member Phil Walter, I became disillusioned with the U.S. response to the Islamic State last year. Perhaps this is not the best reason…but, I am frustrated with the state of U.S. foreign policy and our national security strategy. So, I can either stay angry and curse at the television, or I can do something about it. I’m finding that there are quite a few people in my generation that feel the same way. I find this to be both a source of inspiration and a source of motivation. And, for now, I will continue to #WriteOn.