Jack Crosbie, Columbia Journalism Review:
America’s wars in the Middle East, Thomas Brennan likes to joke, are now officially old enough to drive. Afghanistan, the eldest child in a family of wars that has grown to encompass fighting in almost a dozen countries, will turn 17 this year, and Iraq recently turned 15.
“We’ve never had a war that’s gone on this long,” says Brennan, who joined the Marines in 2003 and saw combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re soon going to have kids that weren’t even born when 9/11 happened that’ll be going off to fight a war that came as a result.”
One of T&P’s newer voices is Paul Szoldra, another marine infantry vet who came over from Business Insider earlier this year. Szoldra’s new column, Code Red News, is an antagonistic take on the Pentagon, and Szoldra says he doesn’t worry about losing access the same way reporters at traditional media outlets might (he doesn’t have a Pentagon press badge to lose, for one).
“The Pentagon does press briefings just like the White House, but in the Pentagon I think there’s a little more deference to what they’re doing,” Szoldra says. “I don’t know why we accept the Pentagon’s view of things as the word of God. They lie to us all the time, they’ve lied to us in the past. It kinda blows my mind that we don’t call them out on it more.”
“I feel veterans’ voices can be brought to bear in just about every issue the media covers these days,” says Adam Weinstein, a senior editor at Task and Purpose. “Whether it’s firearms policy and gun violence, or corruption in government, or jobs and welfare for all Americans, whatever side they take on these issues, veterans’ opinions are deeply informed by their experience and it’s an experience that a vast majority of Americans don’t fully get. So we’re in a position to improve the discourse.”
“My ethos is to complicate the simple narratives,” Weinstein says. “Veterans immediately know that the way they’re spoken about in culture is simplistic and doesn’t jive with their experience.”
In 2016, the Times stopped publishing on most of its standalone blogs, and At War was effectively shut down for a year, during which Chivers lobbied heavily for its return. The paper announced it would revive the vertical under the umbrella of the Times Magazine in December 2017, and in February of this year hired Lauren Katzenberg to edit At War full-time. Katzenberg co-founded Task and Purpose in 2014 and served as that site’s managing editor until her move to the Times.
The new section launched on Tuesday with an essay by a tank commander reflecting on his role in starting the Iraq war. Katzenberg tells me that the new At War is a deliberate attempt to expand the American public’s concept of armed conflict: who it affects, what it’s like, and why that matters. That means incorporating new voices across the world with an insight into conflict —think refugees, aid workers, and other civilians, not just combatants—as well as using the team’s deep background in military life and conflict to publish detailed contextual reporting around confusing topics.
“War is horrible no matter what your politics are,” Katzenberg tells CJR. “There needs to be a discussion somewhere in the middle and I think that veterans can start that conversation. I think there’s a place there to have that dialogue that’s rooted in facts and experience.”
The more veterans that become a part of that conversation, the better.