Sunday, August 14, 2005

Blogs and military misadventures are an odd mix. That said, Wired magazine, in its latest issue (August 2005, 13.08) has an article out, entitled "The Blogs of War", that talks about very courageous bloggers on the front-lines of the war in Iraq. (Well, wherever they have access to a computer and have the time.) And, as well, how this whole phenomenon is interacting with the Pentagon and its attempted censorship regime.

In the article, written by John Hockenberry, we hear of "an oddball online Greek chorus narrating the conflict in Iraq," whose "core group" consists "of about 100 regulars and hundreds more loosely organized activists, angry contrarians, jolly testosterone fuckups, self-appointed pundits, and would-be poets" in the milblogosphere that the Iraq war has created. The 'milbloggers', Hockenberry writes, "offer an unprecedented real-time real-life window on war and the people who wage it," and "constitute a rich subculture with a refreshing candor about the war, expressing views ranging from far right to far left." (It's good that it's a full spectrum.) But, though "the Pentagon officially tolerates this free-form online journalism and in-house peanut gallery," some measures are underway to filter out (i.e. censor), say, "casualty information".

"A new policy instituted this spring requires all military bloggers inside Iraq to register with their units," which seems reminiscent of the 'pooling' method by which media units were assigned to combat units during the first Iraq war. From Camp Falcon, stationed "in southern Baghdad", Cpt. Danjel Bout blogs to 365 and a Wakeup, which Hockenberry describes as "one of the most genuine accounts anywhere of what life is like for a soldier in Iraq." While the Pentagon appears ineffectual in its attempts to control the flow of information from soldiers writing from the battlefield, there has been at least one major instance of military censorship.

Just ask Michael Cohen. He was "a major and doctor with the 67th Combat Support Hospital based in Mosul," and his blog - 67cshdocs - "touched a nerve at the Pentagon late last year" when he recounted the medical response to the grisly attack against the mess hall tent there in December. Dr. Cohen was told by "'some people in the chain of command,'" as he tells it, that the details given on his blog "violate Army regulations," to which Cohen expressed shock. The Pentagon has shut it down, and so "Cohen stopped blogging" and is now "in Germany" (presumably at Ramstein AFB). However, you can still access his blog; the Internet Archive crawl has more-or-less all of it there.

Another target was "Army reservist Jason Hartley's popular and notoriously irreverent blog," Just Another Soldier. (Although it's been officially 'shut down', for some reason it's still online - well, another victory for democracy.) Hartley, who wrote on June 27, 2004, of coming across a Shi'a mosque that been blown up (concluding, "The Iraqis are as busy being assholes to each other as they are to us"), blogs no longer. He wrote: "Being a soldier is to live in a world of shit. From the pogues who cook my food and do my laundry to the Apache pilots and the Green Berets who do all the Hollywood stuff, our lives are in a constant state of suck." Meanwhile, the Pentagon's policy is "that blogs should not reveal any casualty information that could upset next of kin or any details that might jeopardize operational security." (Emphasis added) Hartley, though, was defiant, and continued "blogging a few months" after the Pentagon ordered his blog shut down. He was "demoted from sergeant to specialist," and since "returned to civilian life, though he's still in the reserves," with a memoir due to be published in September.

The milblogs that appear to rank highest are CBFTW's My War: Killing Time In Iraq, Sgt. Missick's A Line In The Sand, The Mudville Gazette, 1st Lt. Neil Prakash's Armor Geddon, Blackfive and 2Slick's Forum. I, for one, recommend reading them, and taking stock of the fact that, otherwise, that is if not for soldiers' blogs, the only journalists anywhere near the combat zone would be confined to the Green Zone, embedded at Camp Victory and surrounded by Bremer walls.

No comments: