(This is part of a piece of serial speculative fiction attempting to imagine what digital writing instruction might look like twenty minutes into the future. Part 1 is here.)
The clickstream in question — the one out of the nineteen geolocated here at the Academy that has to have gotten her the board — is on the CTC subnet: the Combating Terrorism Center. They’re in the same building as us, two floors down, and while they’re widely recognized for their research and their professionalism as global leaders in their cutting-edge approach to counterterrism studies and interagency joint efforts with the FBI and others, their name isn’t the only thing that’s an anachronism. At a place as bound by tradition as this one, they take pride in accentuating the second syllable, and Mala couldn’t stand them when I sent her to talk to them about a senior thesis project. They’re soldiers and civilians, like us, but the civilians are mostly retired military, working on scholarly studies of terrist organizations and networks. They’ve put together monographs and white papers and book chapters on the economics of terrism, histories of terrist philosophy, entrepreneurial terrism, terrist poetics, all that you can imagine, and last fall they hosted the seventh annual International Terrorism Studies conference. Mala said they should’ve put the “or” in bold to show their old-school cred.
They are in some ways as old-school as this Academy gets. Even now, years since the Pentagon took the Army’s advice from TRADOC and raised holy hell by incorporating the points of view of an Italian Marxist and a Duke University literature scholar into its strategic vision, the CTC constitutes the only group on campus who still want to refer to themselves exclusively as warfighters rather than peacekeepers. Training and Doctrine Command read Hardt and Negri and said: yeah. That’s what we do. Under the realities of terrism and distributed combat — under a regime of ongoing war — we need to train peacekeepers. But the CTC wasn’t having it, not a bit of it: we’re warfighters and warfighters only, they said, just on a new field of battle; and nothing less than victory, complete annihilation of our many and diverse enemies, is acceptable. When Mala went to talk to them, that was the perspective they offered, and in a shop heavy with males from the Army’s combat arms branches, they also made it quite clear exactly how much they might value what she had to contribute.
Mala came back and said she thought that misogyny and xenophobia might not be the most productive ways to engage in theorizing counterterrism, and she’d look elsewhere for folks to partner with.
After that, I didn’t hear from her for a while, until Lieutenant Colonel Fensis told me she’d joined his AIAD. AIADs are Academic Individual Advanced Development Opportunities, DoD-funded opportunities for Cadets to get out of the Academy and work on projects in the field, and in the English department, they’re usually tied to service learning and community literacies, particularly in countries in the developing world. LTC Fensis, with his interest in postcolonialist literatures, was taking his group of Cadets to Sri Lanka for ten days over winter break, and I immediately knew what Mala wanted to do.
Database composition isn’t just a junior-level composition course. It’s an overarching method the Academy’s adopted, a way of helping Cadet knowledge circulate, a way of publicizing to the broader academic community and the world the knowledge our Cadets are creating, a way of asking Cadets to value on their own the composing that they and their peers perform in and outside the classroom, and a way of evaluating Cadets’ integrity and public responsibility and overall suitability for officership. For all these reasons, faculty follow clickstreams just as closely as Cadets, watching the strackbacks and spingbacks, who aggregates whose essays from their SNS and scholarly homepages. Cadets take it for granted, but as a member of an older generation, I admit I find it breathtaking to trace a link back from a viral Cadet spirit video to a homepage to a peer shout-out to a course feed to a four-star “chk him on Said — wishn i nu that b4 my thesis” comment to an instructor’s syllabus to a student’s public tagcloud for an engineering project to a “might help u w hist209 rdngs” strackback to a plebe composition essay, and to realize that this is how Cadets are aggregating and recycling knowledge and offering it out to the world on a regular basis. And here’s the thing: if you mean-rank the Academy’s top ten most-populated clickstreams, they’re all firsties — all seniors — with one exception. That exception is Mala. In three years, Cadet Casey’s writing has climbed up from plebe obscurity to the number four slot in the top clickstreams. She’s still a junior — a cow, so nicknamed after a plebe asked a firstie when he could go on pass while the juniors were on leave, and the firstie replied, “When the cows come home” — and an English major, but nearly all of the Corps of Cadets regularly read and sping and cite her work. And the two most-cited and highest-rated essays she’s written are her yearling sociology and political science work on Ilankai Tamils and the LTTE.
Which is why, with the clickstream from the CTC, I’m worried. The AIAD led by LTC Fensis was an adjunct to JSOC counter-terrism exercises conducted hand-in-hand with the largely Sinhalese Sri Lankan military and input from the CTC. And I know Mala, and I know how stubborn and contrary she can be. So I thumb down the connection and the power button, and I turn and make sure the office door’s closed, and then I say:
“You know what this is about, right?”
She looks at the floor. Nods.
I ask: “What happened in Sri Lanka?”
She looks back up. Her face brightens for the first time this morning, and I’m happy to see it.
“Sir,” she says. “I met a boy.”
(To be continued)
Acknowledgments: The ideas about what database composition might look like are directly derived from the stuff Derek Mueller’s been working on and talking about for a long time before I came to them, and of course the idea of deploying strackbacks and spingbacks — secure trackbacks, secure pingbacks — in student writing come from Derek’s amazing CCCC presentation a couple years back. And beyond Derek’s contribution, much of the fun I’m having inheres in taking real Army stuff here at the Academy and projecting it 20 minutes into the future: believe it or not, there are high-level Army policymakers who have read or are reading Hardt and Negri. AIADs and the CTC are real, and the CTC is indeed in the same building where I work. However, I want to emphasize that they’re extraordinarily good, smart, talented people, and certainly not the trolls I fictionalize them as here. At the same time, though, I feel it’s important to acknowledge the fact that xenophobia and misogyny can also sometimes be an unfortunate working reality in the military.