Special Issue: Rhetoric, Technology, and the Military

Mike Edwards and Alexis Hart, Guest Editors

We co-proposed this special issue two summers ago with the idea of investigating the intersections among technology, rhetoric, and the military, as well as the connections between the military and literacy instruction. During World War II, College English published four articles (February 1944, May 1944, March 1945, May 1945) explicitly concerned with connections between literacy instruction in higher education and the contemporary military. Today, in a time of ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, we believe such connections merit renewed attention.

Furthermore, as current members of the Kairos staff, as former members of the armed services ourselves (Alexis as a Navy officer; Mike as an Army soldier), and as faculty members at military academies, we find ourselves attuned to such connections, and attuned as well to the ways advances in communications technologies have complicated those connections. In a recent issue of PMLA dedicated to the special topic of war (2009), Mary Louise Pratt (2009) asked, "How are the generative powers of language mobilized as weaponry?" (p. 1516), and Srinivas Aravamudan (2009) pointed to how "the history of war is inseparable from the progress of technology" (p. 1506). This special issue brings together those two concerns in unique ways, but with a distinction that bears emphasis: The topic that the authors in this issue focus on is the military, not war, and these are categories that are too often uncritically elided, often in critiques that would seek to metonymically substitute one for the other. Such critiques are prominently featured in that special issue of PMLA, and we hope the webtexts in this special issue of Kairos offer a useful counterbalance that engage in what Wayne Booth has characterized in numerous publications as listening-rhetoric. Booth (2005) has argued for listening-rhetoric as an essential response to the ways that "two revolutions -- they could be dubbed awkwardly as '[media] globalization' and 'globalization of weaponry' -- have transformed the narrow audience of classical wartalk into a multiplicity of audiences" (p. 231). As many of these webtexts demonstrate, that listening-rhetoric is an increasingly important component of the military's "activities other than combat": the rhetoric of the open hand to the closed fist of "kinetic operations" (see Carter & Williamson, this issue).

That listening-rhetoric increasingly takes place in online environments initially developed by the military: ARPANET, the first packet-switching network and direct predecessor to the global internet, went live as a Department of Defense project in 1969, and the intersection of networked rhetorics and military affairs has evolved in intriguing ways since. The remarkable number of submissions we received paid rich and exciting attention to some of those intriguing intersections: We received enthusiastic and varied responses to our call for webtexts for this issue, but, as all editors do, we had to limit the number of submissions we could publish in a single volume of the journal. The four texts included in the Topoi section analyze a variety of military texts (from printed field manuals and standard operating procedures to amateur deployment videos to an artist's still images) in a variety of contexts (from the battleground to the classroom to the public conscience) and a variety of cultures (from the US to Israel, from the academy to the social Web). Each of the Topoi pieces considers pedagogical applications of their scholarly analyses as well. This issue includes as well one Praxis piece, one Disputatio piece, three interviews, and two reviews, and we are particularly pleased to have represented in this issue as authors, designers, and interviewees both academicians and active duty or former military personnel. We feel the number of collaborative texts reflects the ethos of teamwork and mentorship prevalent both in military commands and in our scholarly communities.

We're grateful for the way that ethos of teamwork and mentorship showed up in the editorial process for this issue. It's a big issue, and it's seen considerable effort from all the Kairos section editors, staff, and editorial board readers who've taken part in what we can only and appropriately call a massive mobilization of resources and effort. After first-stage review of initial proposals, submissions themselves received multiple reviews by a combination of guest editorial board readers with expertise in matters military and internal editorial board readers: we owe special gratitude to Beth Hewett, Jeff Rice, Mike Burke, Roger Thompson, Rylish Moeller, Clancy Ratliff, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Rich Rice, Kristie Fleckenstein, Mike Salvo, and Dave Sheridan for their thoughtful and extensive editorial recommendations, and especially to editor Cheryl Ball and the students in her digital publishing course for all their help in the production process leading up to the launching (to use a naval metaphor) of this special issue.


In "The Army as Textual Community," Chris Anson and Shawn Neely examine the practices of authorial attribution in textual production in higher education (where notions of individual authorship and intellectual property prevail, particularly at military academies) and in the military (which has a more public conception of authorship). Anson and Neely suggest that unlike the narrow academic view of authorial attribution (or lack thereof) as moral behavior, many of the routine texts produced in the Army focus on the purpose of the communication and how a text contributes to communal goals.

Geof Carter explores the cynical/kynical humor of soldier videos in "Diogenese, Dogfaced Soldiers, and Deployment Music Videos." Carter suggests that the amateur videos paradoxically both undercut authority and honor effective leaders, both make light of and also publicly reveal deployment hardships, both distance the performers from military groupthink and celebrate unit camaraderie.

Steve Fraiberg looks at the ways in which the Israeli military culture is woven into a range of everyday literate activities in "Military Mash-Ups: Remixing Literacy Practices." Through a series of video essays, Fraiberg examines how the codes of the military are "mashed" or remixed into everyday reading, writing, and speaking practices in Israel.

Paul Rutz's "What a Painter of 'Historical Narrative' Can Show Us About War Photography" presents samples of artist Steve Mumford's paintings from the Iraq war zone alongside photos or other war images and asks readers to examine notions of journalism, photojournalism, and the practices of representing war. Each section of this text offers suggestions for helping students to analyze the images.


In "Telling War Stories: The Things They Carry," Paige Paquette and Mike Warren reveal two modern-day methods for soldiers to share their war stories: 1) soldiers sharing their stories with cadets from West Point through a project linking veterans from the Global War on Terror with composition students; and 2) soldiers learning in online composition classrooms designed specifically for them.


In her Disputatio piece, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Dawn Penich-Thacker points to the increasing digital presence of the U.S. military, not only on official dot.mil sites but also on commercial social networking sites, and suggests that the interactions and intersections of military and civilian personnel online challenge the notion of "fundamental differences" between these populations.


Carl Whithaus's interview with prominent public intellectual Noam Chomsky, "So-Called Bloodless Wars," covers a range of topics regarding the uses of technology by the United States military and the Israeli military, including the use of information technology for surveillance, communication, and control of civilian populations.

Ryan Trauman's interview with Hugh Burns, "Rhetoric, the Military, and Artificial Intelligence," traces Burns's transition from military officer to professor, provides insight for junior scholars in computers and composition, and seeks connections among military training, artificial intelligence, and teaching with technology.

As co-editors of this special issue, we conducted an interview with Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, a three-star general who has publicly promoted the use of digital media technologies -- from blogs to YouTube to Twitter -- by military personnel of all ranks. In "A Soldier Interacting, Without Mediation," Lt. Gen. Caldwell answered our questions regarding training, security, and other issues associated with the use of information technologies by active-duty military personnel.


In the Reviews section, Tony McGowan and Steve Resch review Peter W. Singer's Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century, an assessment of robotics, technology, and war today. Their extended review offers a remarkable take on representations of gender and warfare, drawing on sources as wide-ranging (and dear to many Kairos readers) as Star Trek: ToS, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, and Shelley Jackson's classic hypertext Patchwork Girl.

Patrick Thomas's review of Matthew Currier Burden's Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a collection of blog posts from soldiers and their family members during the years 2003 to 2005 engagingly illustrates the ways that the recent practices of milblogging have extended and complicated the scholarly conversation surrounding the rhetorics and audiences of weblogs.

Finally, we must acknowledge that the views expressed in this introduction, and the views introduced in these webtexts, are the authors' own views, and do not represent the views of the respective military institutions or branches with which they may be associated or the views of other authors in this special issue, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.



Aravamudan, Srinivas. (2009). Introduction: Perpetual war. PMLA, 124(5), 1505-1514.

Booth, Wayne. (2005). War rhetoric, defensible and indefensible. JAC, 25(2), 221-244.

Pratt, Mary Louise. (2009). Harm's way: Language and the contemporary arts of war. PMLA, 124(5), 1515-1531.



Heather Stephenson, Christina Pallack, Alexander Browne, Drew Whitney, Sarah Fasen, Haley Drucker, Ariana Haze, Sean Lewis, Alison Kough, Julia Drauden, Alli Bartus, Carly Xagas, Michael Bunce, Katie Ericsson, Amber Dinquel, and Kristen Urchell.