May 02, 2007

Silencing the Milbloggers

Over the weekend, milblogger Jim ("Uncle Jimbo") Hanson was asked on CNN:

Let me ask you quickly, Jim, there's been a lot made of the media improvements by the insurgents, that they're doing a great job of getting their message out. What are we going to see from our military as we move forward against that press machine, when they try to balance it?

The military's response, written by an Army Major, borders on incompetence.

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops' online activities since the start of the Iraq war. And it could mean the end of military blogs, observers say.

Military officials have been wrestling for years with how to handle troops who publish blogs. Officers have weighed the need for wartime discretion against the opportunities for the public to personally connect with some of the most effective advocates for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- the troops themselves. The secret-keepers have generally won the argument, and the once-permissive atmosphere has slowly grown more tightly regulated. Soldier-bloggers have dropped offline as a result.

The new rules (.pdf) obtained by Wired News require a commander be consulted before every blog update.

I certainly understand the military's concerns about operational security, but this order takes us precisely in the wrong direction.

We need a greater flow of information, more firsthand accounts from our frontline soldiers, explaining to us in stark, sometimes vulgar language the exact nature of the war and the enemy we are fighting.

Military blogs, or milblogs, are the only way for frontline soldier to directly relate their experiences to the American public without the filters placed upon them by either the media or their military commanders.

Blog entries from Neil Prakash who formerly wrote at Armor Geddon, provided an irresistible, riveting account of the Battle of Fallujah from the viewpoint of a tank commander involved in the brutal house-to-house fighting. Prakash won a Silver Star during the battle he chronicled, and in writing about his experiences, provided a vivid window into the war that no reporter could emulate, a perspective that no dry MNF-I press release could convey.

At the time, Armor Geddon was perhaps one of the finest of milblogs, and did more to provide a real reflection of the conditions on the ground than any news anchor or wire service report. Armor Geddon became one of the first and most prominent casualties of the OpSec war. Prakash's blog fell silent on October 4, 2005.

One can only imagine what he could have accomplished in communicating the war effort since that time, had the military not decided to silence his voice.

Armor Geddon is just one of a galaxy of milblogs that could envelop the media organizations of the world, organizations that rely upon stringers, bureau reporters, and multiple layers of editors to provide a sterile, detached view of the war and the men fighting it.

Milblogs can and should be among our strongest assets is a war that is as much about perception as execution. Thousands of military bloggers, describing everything from excruciating boredom, to the rush of surviving the shot that just cracks past, milbloggers can serve not only as our first line defenders, but our first line of information.

If we want to win a war that is as much about information as it is about actual counterinsurgency, few can win the American public better than the American soldier or Marine communicating directly to the American people from their hearts.

I hope Army brass realizes this mistake before their concerns over operational security loses the war by not communicating "why we fight" to the American people.

Update: It's purely speculation, of course, but a couple of veterans in emails to Michelle Malkin have raised the possibilty that the new regulations were put in place as a response to harsh criticism of Harry Reid's "war is lost" comments.

The timeline--the order was issued April 19, well in advance of that particular defeatist comment--is wrong on the facts, but it raises an interesting possibility in principle: is it possible that Democratic pressure may be behind the Army's gag order?

Sure, Wonkette and others are quick to jump the gun and predictably "blame Bush" for the order, but like others buying that particular storyline, they obviously don't read milblogs.

Military bloggers are certainly not all fans of George W. Bush, but one thing is for certain, and that is that the overwhelming majority of them are strongly against the "retreat in defeat" plans that Democrats have been pushing since before the 2006 elections.

Who really has more to lose from a vocal military blogosphere? Is it the President, who has supported the military and their shared mission and still fights for it, or the Democrats, who seek to undermine every soldier's sacrifice and the Iraqi lives they are trying to protect?

NOTE: Any no, I don't personally think Democrats are behind this.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 2, 2007 03:21 PM

Great catch and good analysis. We should also think about what a valuable resource these blogs are going to be for future historians. Milblogs are the new letters from the battlefield. If we silence them, we’re losing one less window into the everyday life of a solider for future generations.

Posted by: dmarek at May 2, 2007 03:33 PM

Michael Yon (nod to Purple Avenger re Brooks) has been complaining for some time now that the military has no idea at all how to handle the public relations/information angle on this war and so the military has to go turn right around and further prove his point.


Posted by: Cindi at May 2, 2007 05:45 PM

What is so sad is even the most novice of us, me for example, realized this was going to be information warfare. We have screwed the pooch on this one from the very beginning. The administration has lost the high ground, due largely to their ineptitude at getting the message out. The Dems have politicized this from the very beginning and the Jihadists have out maneuvered and out messaged us from early on.

Now Army makes it even worse. How will this effect morale? Not well, be sure.

Posted by: CoRev at May 3, 2007 07:34 AM

wow HR 1592 passed! It's 1935 all over again.

Posted by: akak at May 3, 2007 10:37 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/03/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at May 3, 2007 12:06 PM

If this were being handled like a "real" war the military would assign a unit to review blogs for classified content then send them on their way. Ripe for abuse, sure, but better than clamping down on ANY content.

Posted by: DoorHold at May 3, 2007 12:25 PM

Re: the Malkin thing.

It seems like any alleged Lefty pressure to silence the blogs would go against the well-known Lefty pressure to get more and more details to the public. We on the Left assume that war is horrific, and that details about this horror will turn people away from it. This goes back to the "Nightline" listing of the war dead and the struggle to get photos of the caskets published.

Silencing the blogs would keep the details out of the public eye--the opposite of what the goal has been up until now.

Posted by: Doc Washboard at May 3, 2007 01:07 PM

I'm working for the DoD right now, and what I'm hearing is that those criticisms WERE what prompted the new emphasis. Nothing official, of course.

Posted by: SDN at May 4, 2007 02:30 PM