I get often asked: will you be writing a new book?  The answer is: yes, I’ve been working on it for the last four years. But it will be a different book than Officier in Afghanistan. Instead of a military autobiography, it will be a book ABOUT military autobiographies: my PhD research.

It is now almost ready. At the moment, the inner doctoral committee (‘de leescommissie’) is reading the manuscript and when they are happy with it, the accompanying promotion ceremony will be held at the Erasmus University Rotterdam on the symbolic date of September 11 at 13:30 hours .

To give you some idea of the exciting results of this research, I would like to share the fifteen most remarkable statistical results. They come from the study of all military Afghanistan memoirs that were published between 2001 and 2010 in five different countries: the US, the UK, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. They answer the three main research questions: who are these soldier-authors, what do they write about and why do they write?

 Who

  • On average it takes military authors of immediate memoirs two years before they publish a book after having been deployed, irrespective of whether they publish with a self-publisher or a traditional publisher.
  • In a warrior nation a book is 12 times more likely to be written by a combat soldier than in a non-warrior nation.
  • Independent of country, combat soldiers are nine times more likely to get published by a traditional publisher than their combat support colleagues.
  • Even though the individually deployed soldier is more likely to be a writer than the soldier who is deployed with his own unit, traditional publishers are five times more interested in publishing the stories from people who went with their own unit than from the individually deployed ones.
  • The same goes for professional soldiers, they are almost eight times more likely to get published by a traditional publisher than a reservist

What

  • Revelatory plots (growth and disenchantment plots together) make up the majority (69%) of Afghanistan memoirs.
  • Working soldiers are nine times more likely to write positive plots than former soldiers.
  • A combat soldier-author is almost four times more likely to write a negative plot than a combat support soldier.
  • Soldier-authors with a traditional publisher are four times more likely to add a truth claim to their books than self-publishers.
  • A large part of all soldier-authors (59%) make some kind of disclaimer as to the content of their book; almost always (in 97% of the cases) about some form of self-censorship for operational security reasons, rarely (12%) for literary reasons.

Why

  • 78% of all soldier-authors feel the need to explicitly explain why they wrote and published their book.
  • A positive plot is five times more likely not to have an explanatory motivation text than a negative plot.
  • Authors of negative plots are five times more likely to voice a desire for change than authors of positive plots.
  • Soldier-authors who write that they themselves have experienced some kind of mental adaptation problem (such as PTSD symptoms or prolonged alienation) are eighteen  times more likely to admit to writing as a form of therapy than people who do not write about these problems.
  • Of all soldier-authors who give self-help motives, 79% is individually deployed, and individually deployed soldiers are almost six times more likely to give self-help motives than soldiers who have been deployed with their own unit. 
Read the entire thesis here.
Listen to and look at the public defense ceremony (15 minutes, in Dutch)

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