Friday, July 01, 2005

The Amazing Disappearing Milblogs

Earlier today, Kevin from Boots on the Ground wrote a post revealing an interesting bit of news:

Another blow to the military blog community. A 3 star General approved an "order" that all milbloggers have to tell their chain of command about their blog. This is very unfortunate obviously that alot of people want to see the soldier's side and plus see alot of what is going on that the news cannot and will not cover. I think the news papers do a better job at revealing US military tactics and strategy to insurgents than our blogs could ever do. I, and many other people, even many civilians I know say there shouldn't be any reporters embedded with US troops or that they don't even belong there.

On another interesting note, Sgt. Devore, one of my favorite milblogs disappeared today, replaced by a "404-Page not found" error. When I first saw this, I thought it was a recurrent technical problem with Blogger (sometimes blogs temporarily disappear and reappear a day or so later), but then I noticed Sgt. Devore's old blog is also gone, and looking at what Kevin wrote above, I think this seems a bit too much of a coincidence for my liking.

I really think the US military is shooting themselves in the foot by trying to clamp down on military blogs. Blogs are a powerful public relations tool, much more effective than embedded reporters, or any of the vapid official press releases that the military tends to issue. Blogs are by their basic nature unedited, exposing the raw thoughts and emotions of their writers, and giving readers a real taste of what being there would really be like.

Blogs can also be powerful recruitment tools: personally, if I were an 18 year old guy thinking about whether to enlist or not, reading the writing of guys like Sgt. Devore would make me far more likely to sign up than any flashy commercials or recruitment videos the army recruitment office might put together. Flashy videos may look pretty, but reading a blog gives you a real taste of what you are getting yourself into.

Blogs are also very good ways for communicating across cultural lines, and establishing channels of understanding and trust. The Internet, by its nature, always provides a comfortable distance for people, and thus enables communication channels that would otherwise be impossible. A number of Iraqi civilians have gotten into blogging (either reading them or writing their own or both), and through this has allowed them to learn about other cultures and helped others learn about them, which has helped to dispel many of the myths we previously held about each other. Allowing soldiers to blog allows Iraqi civilians to see their perspective, and also allows the soldiers to understand why they might be perceived a particular way by people on the street.

This is one of these blog posts where I really do hope I get proven wrong (and if Sgt Devore's blog pops back up tomorrow, that will be the case). But, if not, today's events are a major disappointment to me. And if Sgt Devore was forced to take his blog down, this is a major loss for the blogosphere, a major blow against freedom of expression in the military, and a major erosion of the US public's visibility into the events in Iraq.