By Dan Zak
Last night I was reading “Thank You for Your Service,” my colleague David Finkel‘s book on the veterans of America’s latest wars, and checking Twitter between chapters, because Twitter is meant to be checked. My feed was a mudslide of commentary on the “Duck Dynasty” controversy, which is yet another of this country’s micro civil wars fought on the artificial battlefield of social media.
The inanity of the debate, the divisive edge of the arguments, the bandwidth burned at the expense of — well, my irritation and self-righteousness swelled until I saw a particular retweet pop its way onto my phone. It began: “This is the last photo of me with two arms.” I tapped through to the user’s own Twitter page and saw that J.R. Salzman, a 34-year-old Iraq vet and champion log roller who lives in Wisconsin, had just “live”-tweeted an event that happened exactly seven years ago in Iraq.
I relived the experience through him, tweet by agonizing tweet, and was humbled. Here was a real-time expression of the pain and fortitude described in Finkel’s book. It was bracing to see the reflection of one in the other, and to witness an ennobling of the Twitter medium, and I was grateful for the momentary reality check. It’s easy enough to say “thank you for your service.” It’s a bit harder to read about the service itself: