Posted by: paulfbove | April 8, 2008

Milblogs–Viewing the War on the Web

The impact that technology has had on war is profound. And massive. Think about the first Iraq war way back in 1991. Remember watching images of it on TV? I sure do. Remember where you watched the second Iraq war? OK, TV again; but a lot of what you saw probably came from online sources as well. Blogs, video clips, on-air interviews from overseas, embedded journalists. The war is on 24-hours a day, all day. And what you see or read is much more meaningful than anything that Dan Rather can report to you. The questions for class this week are: “Is seeing and reading about war a good thing or a bad thing? Should we have this much access to the front lines?” My answer is yes to both. As a defense contractor, I’ve been a strong proponent for ensuring that military personnel have unfettered access to blogs and also working on blogging policy (I’m with that branch that primarily flies planes). After a post in DangerRoom about the AF blocking access to blog sites, I talked to some co-workers who had blogged while deployed and learned a lot about the challenges they faced in getting their material out there, and more importantly learned what blogging means to them.

The people I spoke to cited the same similar reasons for wanting to blog while deployed: 1) It is a great mental outlet to be able to put into words the things they see, 2) It is a way to let their loved ones know what is going on and that they are alright, and 3) It is a way to get news from others who are living the same experience. We, the public, are beneficiaries of this front line access. If you are interested in reading about war, then you have thousands of soldiers to hear. If you don’t want to hear about war, then you can also read the thousands of sites dedicated to criticizing the war. Everyone wins. And even though it is not always easy for airmen and soldiers to access their blogs, they have creative ways of posting. To protect the guilty, I won’t post those here.

After reviewing some of the sites that were assigned for class, I went back to read an email that I had received a few months after starting my current job. Two of my co-workers (JV-a photographer, and JW-a writer) were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan when I started my job, so at the time I knew them only by name. In June 2007, their team came under mortar fire in Iraq and the broadcaster (not from my office) was badly injured (he received the Purple Heart). JW kept a blog while deployed and wrote an incredible story about the incident that our director sent to everyone in our division. I had read milblogs before, but this was the first time that a stronger human feeling was attached to it. Although I didn’t yet know JW and JV, the fact that they worked in the same office as me and that my other co-workers knew them made it personal. The detailed account transported me to that tent in Iraq and actually made me choke up (and anyone who knows me knows that I only get choked up during It’s a Wonderful Life!). It was real account of real life for airmen and soldiers. And now that I know JW and JV, it makes it so much more meaningful because you realize what could have happened that night in Iraq. I recently read some of JW’s other entries from her deployment last year and they still resonate strongly with me. They also make me look at other milblogs with a more personal touch even though I don’t know the writer.

Site of Mortar Attack

From left to right: JB, JW, one of the Air Force joint tactical air controllers, and JV at a forward operating base south of Baghdad. Two days after this photo was taken, they got mortared. The team was underneath that tent shown – JW was laying on the green cot shown. The mortar landed next to that green bush behind them.

The emotional aspect is why I think that having ready access to the war is a good thing and military personnel should be allowed to tell their stories. There is no spin, no propaganda, no scripted version of the truth that you might find on a network news story. Milblogs are not about the debate between pro-war and anti-war. They are about humans. You can hate the war if you want to , but you can’t argue with the fact that it’s a human writing the blog entry.

My officemate will be deploying for Iraq on April 15 as part of the Joint Combat Camera Center and I’ve convinced him to keep a blog. I think that the stories you hear from the front line are one of the most valuable resources available to really learn what is happening out there.

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