Let Loose the Blogs of War

Wired News has an excellent story out today talking about changes in military operational security (OPSEC) which are going to change the face of military blogging forever. In fact, military blogging may not exist at all anymore under new rules (.pdf file…sorry). If you don’t feel like plowing through the entire 79 page document, you can check out a nifty OPSEC Powerpoint presentation converted to .pdf here, which talks specifically about blogging.

Basically, in something which may come as no surprise to you, members of the military keep blogs. Active duty, even. They also send emails to keep up with family members, since phone access is difficult, and many of them also use instant messaging. (IMing is how I communicate with most of my friends in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The military, understandably, is somewhat concerned about this. Restrictions on communications have always been a fact of life, but now the Pentagon is cracking down on bloggers, because it sees them as a potential threat.

Being able to communicate is vital for members of the military for a number of reasons.

The first is personal. Being able to talk to friends and family members is beneficial. Even if soldiers do not get specific about what they are doing and where they are doing it, being able to send a letter to someone is a powerful act. It shows that you are not cut off from society. It means that someone cares about you. This is important, psychologically. It’s also just fundamental: can you imagine being separated from friends and family for 18 months, or more, thanks to Stop Loss? No.

It’s also important on a public relations level. I read a lot of military blogs. Some of them are very military positive, talking enthusiastically about things that people are doing. Some of them are providing positive and important criticism, such as revelations about conditions at Walter Reed. None of the soldiers writing these blogs want to compromise OPSEC. All of them want to reach out, communicate about life in the army, so that people can get an inkling of what it’s like. I think that this is a good thing.

This is why we have embedded reporters, another thing that the Pentagon is considering putting into reverse. The military is notorious for being a slow adopter of communications technology. Which is understandable, since certain information could compromise its ability to function well. But…a balance needs to be struck. I’m sure that some people are considering joining the military because of materials posted on the Internet by active duty military. Some more people are probably thinking that they will not join, and others are getting fired up on the behalf of soldiers to advocate for better medical care, retirement benefits, and so forth. This is a good thing. It sponsors dialog and gets the civilian community connected with the military.

Communicating is also crucial on a therapeutic level. The military wants to deny the fact that soldiers are facing serious psychological issues as a result of their tours. This includes marginalizing the benefits of psychiatric therapy and belittling soldiers who seek help or who advocate for others. This is probably also contributing to the essential ban on military blogs which has gone through. I think that this is a dangerous choice, and I wonder when the Pentagon intends to deal with the skyrocketing rates of mental illness among soldiers.

In order to publish a blog, write a personal email, or send out another form of communication, such as posting a YouTube video, a solider will need to confirm the material with a superior officer. Censorship is already a given for members of the military, and should come as no surprise. But censorship at this level essentially dooms military blogging. I will not be able to read the personal experiences of men and women serving their country, because the military doesn’t want me to.

Maybe you’re not a big fan of the military. That’s ok. Some people aren’t. But I think you can agree that the presence of military blogs is a positive thing in our society. The anti-war folks often find things to agree with in military blogs, just like the flag wavers do. And that’s awesome, to have this wide spectrum of available, fascinating information coming out from active duty writers. It’s something we have not had access to as a society before, and I would be sorry to lose it.

You can probably find a representative from your state on the Senate Armed Services Committee or the House Armed Services Committee. Write them to say that you support blogging by active duty military, and that you would like to see them standing up for the rights of blogging soldiers.

[military blogging]