Discover more from Harding Project Substack
A Military Writer’s Approach to November
November's Memories, December's Manuscripts
British Warrior-Poet Wilfred Owen1
For the military writer, a conscientious approach in November pays dividends in December as the committed professional finds natural opportunity to put thought to paper. End of year holidays mark an excellent opportunity for professional writing.
The following piece suggests organizing November self-study through the lens of reflection. Veterans Day provides a reminder that art is a powerful medium to share experiences while the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address urges Americans to renew commitment to a powerful cause. Thanksgiving then provides an opportunity for positive reflection. When taken as a whole, this approach sets the writer up for December success.
Veterans Day - Artful Engagement
For Veterans Day, many honor the tradition of military service through shared public conversations, by checking in on old comrades, and by seeking to better understand the experiences of our brothers and sisters-in-arms. From those that came before, we inherit a rich catalog of military memoirs and oral histories. Others benefit from varied traditions of expressive art to include film, music, and poetry. Each veteran has a unique story, but careful examination across cultures and time will begin to reveal a common thread of the human condition. When expressed through art, these truths take on new dimensions and expose military writers to a range of powerful narratives.
Throughout history veterans process trauma through expression. In 2021, Dulles International Airport showcased a mixed-media gallery highlighting female veterans. Like Dulles', modern art installations showcase veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan convey powerful stories about the unique, yet shared experiences.
Consider reading Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum” about World War 1 horrors. Owen, the classic warrior-poet, sought to make sense of the ‘insensibility’ of his war through poetry. Thankfully, his art survived. Owen was killed on November 4, 1918 while leading combat troops in Northern France, exactly one week before the armistice ending the war.
American holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” takes on a new dimension when one considers leading star Jimmy Stewart was only a year returned from his World War 2 service with the Mighty Eighth Air Force flying over Europe. The toll of repeated bomber runs over Nazi-controlled Europe flash throughout this film’s performance. To illustrate my point, compare Stewart’s performance of mental exhaustion in his pre-war final monologue performance of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with the post-war performance in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Gettysburg Address - Renewed Commitment
AI-assisted rendition of Lincoln editing the Gettysburg Address2
This year on November 19th marks the 160th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
President Lincoln serves as one of the greatest American strategic thinkers and communicators. Consider the arc of 1863 and Lincoln's hand in drafting it. The year included the Emancipation Proclamation, a victory at Gettysburg, the first federal Thanksgiving holiday, Congressional elections, and delivery of the Gettysburg Address. From these events, Lincoln delivered a compelling vision of a united nation capable of victory, healing, and endeavoring to be better.
For the military writer, the speech provides a timeless example of clarity, purpose, and structure. The incredible speech, short in length but rich in meaning, serves as an American touchstone tying the terrible cost of the “the last full measure of devotion” to the shared commitment to maintaining the freedom enshrined in the Constitution. The 272 word speech is a master class in concise, rich writing and should be revisited often for inspiration.
Thanksgiving - A Warrior’s Holiday
Setting aside a day of reflection and gratitude is an American tradition going back centuries. While not enshrined in law until the 1940s, Thanksgiving finds historical roots in honoring wartime victories going back to at least the Revolutionary War. Washington proclaimed a thanksgiving celebration following the victory at Saratoga and during the first year of Presidency to acknowledge the successful “conclusion of the late war.”
Further continuing the trend, Lincoln called for the first federal Thanksgiving holiday in the months following the Union Victory at Gettysburg. Indelibly tying sacrifice to gratitude and purpose, President Lincoln in his proclamation called for “harmony, union, and peace.” To underscore the historical ties, the Gettysburg Address was delivered precisely one week before this first Thanksgiving holiday. Though not often associated, historical Thanksgiving celebrations were a reflection of the immense sense of warriors' gratitude for victory. Find common purpose with our forebears during Thanksgiving by providing a period of reflection and gratitude for those sacrificed for victory and the many blessings that accompany.
November primes the motivated mind for December’s military writing. While each of us honor holidays in our own way, consider taking dedicated moments of pause for introspection and motivation. This holiday season, spend time with loved ones, and importantly, reflect on what is important. If the mood strikes, consider jotting down a thought and see what you have to say.
Nicholas Frazier is an Army officer. Upon reflection, he is grateful for his extremely good fortune.
The view expressed here is the author’s alone and does not represent the U.S. military or Department of Defense.
“Wilfred Owen, Side Face, Waist Length, Cap,” The English Faculty Library, University of Oxford / The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed November 19, 2023, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/5026.
AI-assisted. Initial Prompt via Dalle-3 “Lincoln preparing a draft of the Gettysburg Address the night before the speech.” Further removal of anachronisms with Stable Diffusion AI tools provided in special thanks to Erik Davis.