Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Putting the muzzle on military bloggers

The motto of the milblogging community has always been simple-  Free speech from those who make it possible.

That motto is being tested recently by the Army, which has effectively shut down one of the more popular milblogs, A Soldier's Perspective, and it's main author Master Sergeant CJ Grisham.  You can read the whole story here, or the Army Times coverage of it here.

In response to the Army's censorship of one of our own, dozens of milblogs are going dark today.  No posting, no comments.  Just as the war in Afghanistan is heating up, we need the boots on the ground to share their stories more than ever.  The highest echelons of leadership in the military have recently embrassed new media as a way to fight the enemy in I/O, information operations.  But many of the mid-level leaders in the Army still see bloggers as a risk, rather than an asset.

When I started blogging in Iraq, I was lucky to have a sympathetic chain of command, and I did everything I could to keep them informed of my activities.  But at the middle level of command, i.e. the officers that didn't know me personally and didn't want to responsible for anyone rocking the boat, I did get flack.  At one point I was scheduled to do a live radio interview with the First Team of the Northern Alliance radio show to talk about the Appeal For Courage, but had to cancel at the last minute because an anonymous officer was concerned that there was no potential upside to a radio interview, and lots of potential downside. 

To illustrate this point, he pointed to a Google search of my name that turned up some comments on the Daily KOS.  I responded that if the Daily KOS was going to be a factor in setting Army policy, then we all better give up right then.  His chain of command agreed with me, and the interview was rescheduled.

Military bloggers have strict rules about what we can and can't say.  Operational security (opsec) is paramount, and most bloggers censor themselves to avoid giving the enemy any useful intel.  But the upside to milblogging is huge.  Our soldiers on the front lines of this war can talk about their day, battles they have fought, and what conditions are really like.  But most importantly they can show the world the truth about how our soldiers conduct themselves.  If we are to have any chance in Afghanistan at winning hearts and minds, we need soldiers to share the truth of the battles they fight to counteract the propaganda that the Taliban and AQ put out, like the myth that coalition forces are killing more civilians than the enemy is.  And we also need those voices to remind people back at home that the cause we are fighting for is just.

Censorship is a tactic of the enemy, it should not be ours.


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