It turns out that I can thank former Army colonel and historian Andrew Bacevich for the fact that U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen began his article-writing career at TomDispatch. That was in February 2017. His first piece was headlined “Mission Unaccomplished, 15 Years Later” and it began this way: “The United States has already lost — its war for the Middle East, that is. Having taken my own crack at combat soldiering in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that couldn’t be clearer to me. Unfortunately, it’s evidently still not clear in Washington.” More than two years later, of course, it still isn’t.
With this post, his 19th at TomDispatch, Sjursen is now officially a retired Army major who now writes for such varied non-mainstream sites as Truthdig and Antiwar.com. In his latest piece, he offers his very personal goodbye to all that — if not, unfortunately, to America’s forever wars. Back in 2017, he arrived at this website in a relatively rare fashion — over the transom. So it seemed appropriate at the moment when he’s finally left the military to ask him about how exactly he stumbled upon TomDispatch. Here’s his account:
“The way it shook out is: when I was a cadet at West Point, I took an elective from the guy who’s now the head of its history department and he had us read excerpts from Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. That work challenged everything I had been taught there. It was the only dissenting document I read then and, since it was from another soldier, another graduate of West Point, it was mind-blowing. Soon after, I disappeared into the Army. For the next eight years, I basically didn’t do anything academic, but I did keep up with Bacevich’s latest work. After being posted to Afghanistan, a country I left in 2012 more antiwar than I had ever been, I was sick, emotionally and morally, and in a bad place personally. And yet professionally, I was having an amazing year because I had just been selected to teach history at West Point, which Bacevich did as well. That meant I took off my uniform and went to a civilian graduate school for two years first.
“While I was there, I had an enormous amount of time on my hands and started writing angry little essays just for myself and reading dissenting material. I also started Googling anything by Bacevich I could find, which led me to TomDispatch. And then I started reading everything at TomDispatch and searching out its authors’ work at other sites and so was introduced to the world of non-mainstream antiwar dissent. In my last civilian semester before West Point, I madly wrote my own book on my experiences in Iraq in four months and it got published, but I still hadn’t written a single article for publication.
“When I left West Point in 2017, I suddenly found myself back in the real Army, which seemed a bereft and boring place to be. I had all this time on my hands and so I wrote my first article-length piece, which, at its original 4,000 words, seemed too long for anyplace but you. I emailed you (and other sites, too) and you wrote back…”
And the rest, as they say, is history — as now is Danny Sjursen’s Army career, but not his life at TomDispatch. Think of this, in fact, as the first installment in the next chapter of that life.