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A retired Marine sergeant on what it’s like to kill for the first time, a foreign correspondent on his kidnapping by the Taliban, a veteran’s parents on the suicide of their son — all of these deeply personal firsthand accounts from America’s military conflicts in the Middle East originated on At War, a somewhat rogue operation of a blog that The Times ran from 2009 to 2016.
On March 20, the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, At War officially returns. Now part of The New York Times Magazine, the new iteration will continue to tell stories of the American war experience while expanding its coverage to global conflicts and their outcomes, including the continuing refugee crises. The first essay looks back at March 20, 2003, through the eyes of a veteran Marine lieutenant who led a platoon of six tanks into Baghdad.
“There’s no question At War is more structured than its old self,” C.J. Chivers, a veteran Marine and writer at large for The Magazine who lobbied intensely for the blog’s revival, wrote in an email. “But we hope it can often remain low-ranking, offbeat and at times outright odd. We want to retain the old renegade spirit.”
Lauren Katzenberg, who co-founded the popular military blog Task & Purpose, is the first dedicated editor for At War. She will oversee a team comprising Mr. Chivers, John Ismay and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, all of whom served in the United States armed forces and contributed to the original blog.
At War will continue to be primarily digital, publishing two to three articles a week, and will introduce a newsletter in the coming months. Articles will occasionally run in print, and some will be exclusive to The Magazine, with complementary posts online.
At War’s roots lie in Baghdad Bureau, a Times blog started in February 2008, after the American troop surge in Iraq. Baghdad Bureau began as an experimental multimedia platform for the voices of Iraqis — a deliberate contrast to the drumbeat of print headlines blaring death tolls — and a place where correspondents could empty their overflowing notebooks.
But as American military priorities pivoted and more troops moved into Afghanistan, Baghdad Bureau was rechristened At War, a broadening that reflected the scope of the United States’ brewing conflicts.
Less than a month after the renaming, Stephen Farrell, a foreign correspondent who was running the blog on the ground, and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, were kidnapped by the Taliban near Kunduz, Afghanistan.
Mr. Farrell’s 3,800-word recounting of their seizure at gunpoint, their four days in captivity and the rescue operation that ended with the deaths of Mr. Munadi and a British paratrooper was one of At War’s longest and most transfixing reads.
Despite the inauspicious start, At War evolved from a blog written primarily by Times reporters, photographers and translators, and found its stride with “A Soldier Writes,” a column that highlighted the perspectives of military personnel, many of whom were young and had different viewpoints from their colonels and generals.
For Mr. Farrell, who is now the Reuters bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories, the ideal blog post conveyed the sense that it was “written by somebody who’s just kicked the dust of Kandahar off their feet, or is standing and looking at a scene and you can feel the sweat, the fear, the passion, the danger, the perils, the empathy.” In addition to soldiers, he solicited aid workers to bring their perspectives to At War. The stories transported readers to the battlegrounds of the Middle East and helped At War develop a fiercely loyal, passionate following, particularly within military circles.
“The audience ultimately became the contributors to it,” said Ian Fisher, who oversaw the blog from New York as a then-deputy Foreign editor. “That’s what made it so great.”
As the wars de-escalated and troops began leaving the Middle East, At War transitioned to home-front issues. Under James Dao, who took over editing the blog as a National correspondent covering military and veterans affairs, At War expanded to include veterans and family members.
Mr. Dao cites Thomas James Brennan as the “poster child of At War,” who, as an active-duty Marine, wrote about his traumatic brain injury after a grenade explosion in Afghanistan and then, as a veteran, about his post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide.
“To me that was just the ideal of what the blog could do — through this one guy capture this whole range of war experiences from an American Marine’s point of view,” said Mr. Dao, who is now The Times’s Op-Ed editor. Mr. Brennan was one of several contributors whose writing careers At War helped start.
As the golden age of blogs waned, At War persisted, becoming one of The Times’s most enduring, active and robust digital endeavors. Its quiet dormancy in 2016 resulted from shifting newsroom resources, but now At War will once again bring readers to front lines around the world.
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