"My husband bought yesterday at the Commissary's one barrel of flour, one bushel of potatoes, one peck of rice, five pounds of salt beef, and one peck of salt all for $60. In the street a barrel of flour sells for $115," reads one housewife's war diary.
"Today in the morning I went out to get bread and groceries. ... The streets are empty only bakeries are open and some grocery shops charging 4 times the normal prices," reads the war diary of a man in a city under siege.
The first quote above is from a Dec. 4, 1863, entry written in Richmond by Mary Chesnut. The second is by a man who calls himself Salam Pax, and it was written March 21, 2003, in Baghdad.
Chesnut's "Diary from Dixie" was handwritten and later published in book form. Salam Pax started chronicling his Baghdad experiences six months ago and published them in his blog blog being the shortened form of Web log, meaning a collection of personal observations available instantly to anyone who has an Internet connection.
Not much is known about Pax. He may or may not be a 29-year-old gay architect in Baghdad. He may or may not be a propagandist for one side or the other. Whatever he is, he's evenhanded: He says he condemns Saddam Hussein, and yet he questions whether one country can bomb another into democracy. Many believe he's real, and he certainly puts a personal face on the war in Iraq. So far as is known, he's the only Baghdad resident who's keeping a blog.
Readers of his online diary have seen his descriptions of bombs falling on his favorite buildings in Baghdad and read his account of those oil trenches encircling the city being set afire, spreading a greasy black pall over the capital.
On the third day of the war he wrote, "The whole city looked as if it were on fire. The only thing I could think of was 'why does this have to happen to Baghdad.' As one of the buildings I really love went up in a huge explosion I was close to tears."
On March 24, he wrote, "Today my father and brother went out to see what happening in the city, they say that it does look that the hits were very precise, but when the missiles and bombs explode they wreck havoc in the neighborhood where they fall. ... I guess that is what is called 'collateral damage' and that makes it OK?"
Richmond was on the losing side of the war that Mary Chesnut wrote about. Salam Pax's Baghdad will probably face the same fate. But it's the details, the intimate glimpses at how people cope with the unthinkable that fascinate. Chesnut's words are still with us 140 years later. Salam Pax's are haunting readers worldwide today. S
Salam Pax's last entry was March 24. As of this writing, he has not added to his diary. You can read his blog at http://dear_raed.blogspot.com.