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    [ # ] Milblogs: Yesterday and Today
    January 28th, 2008 under Blog Program, Military Programs, New Media

    The Dole Institute of Politics hosted a panel on “Military Blogging and America’s Wars.”
    The guests included John Donovan, one of America’s leading milbloggers (who was invited to meet President Bush in the White House); Ward Carroll, a retired Navy Commander who flew F-14s and editor of http://www.military.com/; and Charles J. “Jack” Holt, chief of New Media Operations for the Department of Defense. David D. Perlmutter, a professor in the KU School of Journalism & Mass Communications, and author of VISIONS OF WAR and BLOGWARS.
    The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is supposed to have said that “war is the father of all things.” It is absolutely true that where we live, the language we speak, the flags we fly, the beliefs we hold, the land we live on, and even our genetic heritage have been affected by who won and lost wars. Likewise, much of our technology was created for or improved toward making war. As I talk about in my newest book, BLOGWARS: THE NEW POLITICAL BATTLEGROUND, (Oxford University Press, 2008), the commercial and public Internet is a case in point: It began in the 1960s as ARPANET, a project of the American military to create a decentralized “command and control network” that would survive nuclear war. Now the Internet is a crucial “front” in the war on terrorism. And, of great interest to people concerned about the future of war, from historians to generals, the warriors themselves are embracing the social interactive media, like blogs, that the Internet has spawned.




    As a media historian I take a historical view about the “military blog” (any weblog by military personnel, on duty or retired) or the “warblogs” (weblogs specifically by soldiers, sailors, air force personnel, and Marines deployed in war zones). About a decade ago I wrote a book called VISIONS OF WAR: PICTURING WARFARE FROM THE STONE AGE TO THE CYBER AGE (St. Martins, 1999). At that time, after the first Gulf War and the Bosnia war, we were already witnessing journalists doing on-air reports of war “live from ground zero.” I closed the book by a speculation that new tech would also allow us to see future wars through the eyes of the combatants:

    Will it be especially disheartening or enraging for television or Web viewers to look through the helmet camera of one of its ‘boys’ as a Fifth World gunman, grinning into the lens like an antagonist from some video game, fires his low technology rifle into the soldier’s face? As the $20,000 camera and the priceless life of one American are extinguished and the screen turns to static, what will be our response?….Will this method of visualizing war accomplish something that no vision of war has truly done before: will we, the distant spectator, die a little with the warrior?

    I was not predicting the rise of the milblog, per se, but the milblog does seem to be a huge step forward in connecting military men and women to the homefront. And we do feel a strong connection when a milblogger is killed in action and we find ourselves reading their last post as in the case recently of Major Andrew J. Olmstead who blogged as G’Kar (a reference to a character from the BABYLON 5 television series) and was killed in Iraq on January 3rd.

    As a historian, then, let me set up contrasting examples that I have talked about before on the Dole blogsite and elsewhere:
    In ancient times, people could send messages about war in many ways, from light signals to horse riders. But if you wanted to broadcast your message to large audiences, well, there were coins (by about 600 BCE) but they were pretty limited in space. So instead of “mass communication” you could—if you were a really powerful person—engage in massive communication. For example, sometime in the 1270s BCE, the Pharaoh Ramses II and his army fought a battle against an enemy Hittite army at Kadesh, in what is now Syria. The battle was a draw; in fact, the Egyptians ended up retreating. But Ramses’ memorial temple shows on its huge and high walls pictures and hieroglyphics of the great ruler as victorious. As originally painted, Ramses is bronze skinned, broad shouldered, long armed, resolute of face, wearing the twin crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, and many times larger than the Hittites and his own men—a superman in the anthropological as well as comic book sense.
    In the written records accompanying the images,[1] Ramses boasts that he personally routed “every warrior of the Hittite enemy, together with the many foreign countries which were with them.” In contrast, the Pharaoh blames his own men for early problems in the battle: “You have done a cowardly deed, altogether. Not one man among you had stood up to assist me when I was fighting . . . not one among you shall talk about his service, after returning to the land of Egypt.”
    I wonder whether some spearman veteran of Kadesh, walking by the tableaus, did not squint up, shake his head, and growl to his wife, “The lying bastard; it was his bad leadership that screwed up everything; we weren’t cowards.” Of course, we do not know; foot soldiers in Pharaoh’s army did not record their campaign memoirs for anyone, including posterity. They may not have even been able to read hieroglyphics, although they would not have failed to observe their own portrayal in the picture writing as the tiny supporting cast for the monarch’s vainglory.

    Today, however, their contemporary counterparts blog. Take a 2005 post from CaptB, a Marine blogger in Iraq writing for his blog “one marine’s view” (now promoted in stateside duty as blogger “Major Pain”). It includes a picture of the good officer on his modern chariot of war. I quote the unedited passage in full to render a flavor of the authenticity and intensity that the milblogger (or rather warblogger) at the front, in a war without fronts, can offer those of us at home trying make sense of it all:     


    SMOKE EM IF YA GOTEM! Another fine day here in Iraq. Thanksgiving has come and gone and we are that much closer to getting outa here. The holiday was nice although it was the same as every other day here as we maintained vigilance and on guard for attacks and concluded operations. The chow was hot . . . It resembled turkey, really it did . . . kinda . . . oh well I digest. It was hot chow and I am thankful for that. As I remember back in Afghani living months on MRE’s, yes it was hot chow and Im damn glad to have it. On our Thanksgiving some of my guys were wrapping up a convoy as they would on the typical day here when they were ambushed and hit with an IED. Probably an 81mm mortar size. Because there were many civilians in the area they weren’t able to fire into the crowed where the known triggerman was hiding within. No Marines were injured due to their training, gear and armor hummers. Its was the fourth IED for us. Not a lot compared to others but about four too many, trust me one was plenty and I have the T-shirt Im good to go. Now we race down what we call the White Knuckle Express? It’s a road to our destination similar to others with names like ambush alley, dead mans curve and the gauntlet. I really hate this road and respect it a lot because of how dangerous it is. The second time we were scheduled to travel this route I rewrote some items in a last letter? to my family the night before . . . just in case the worse happened because this is where it would happen. I did this because the first time really got my attention if you know what I mean. We maneuver down the bare street (never a good sign) and have to jump the curb to go around an M1 Tank that is protecting our flank. M1’s are great to have around as they bring a lot of fire power to the fight. Watch the bag on the right with wires? says truck one, as we continue our movement through the dirty trash covered streets. What doesn’t look like an IED at this point??? Everything you see looks like it could hide an artillery shell underneath it. A pack of 5 dogs begins to chase truck 2 in the street as the other trucks continue their paths. We aren’t moving or stopping for anything. In this area its survival of the meanest as these same dogs are probably some that have been seen feeding on dead enemy, a real pleasant sight. I could explain every detail to you about it but you wouldn’t feel the sneaky eyes peeking around corners with cell phones calling trigger men ahead waiting to try to blow you up or you wouldn’t feel the weight on your chest as you swerve to miss the crater holes and the radio chatter is calling out the probable IEDs spotted. Its very surreal because while this is going on small kids are waving hello at you on the sidewalks. I guess that’s better than them mashing their thumbs down imitating the act of detonating an IED like they sometimes do. This place is crazy. As we drive Ive now counted at least twenty IED crater holes in the road and have lost count there are so many. However, this fear keeps you razor sharp and alert with adrenalin pumping in your veins to where it takes an hour or so to chill the hell out. Smoke em if ya gotem! Just as we enter the friendly lines a large IED goes off behind us. It was triggered too late to hit us and no one was injured, well that was number five says one of the Marine, 6 if you count the one we discovered and detonated ourselves. As we pull in to our destination, prayer begins and the familiar Arabic chant is broadcasted throughout the area. You remind your Marines of where not to position themselves because of past sniper shots claiming warriors. The Marines are fired up and have lightening reflexes ready for anything. It’s a good thing because I think if Bambi? the deer ran across them now the little thing would be vapor. We conduct our mission on scene and adjust to do the run again. Its another fine day here in Iraq. Semper Fi, time for a cigar!

    How far such communication has come from the days of Ramses! An anonymous commenter aptly noted to CaptB, “Felt like I was there with you Capt, through your riveting account. How did you ever learn to write like that? It is an amazing gift! We can never thank you and your Marines enough for the outstanding service and sacrifice you are providing America every day. You are all in our hearts and prayers.” Indeed. And so soldiers, sailors, air force personnel, and Marines now tell their stories, in their own words, even with their own pictures, from ground zero. By doing so they are changing the world of media and politics—maybe even of war.
    Whatever your opinion about this war, we can all agree that new communications technology is changing its face and its voice. –David D. Perlmutter

    [1] See: Wilson, J. A. (1956) The culture of ancient Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Goedicke, H. (Ed). (1985). Perspectives on the battle of Kadesh. Baltimore: Halgo.







    Read the Comments

    [ # 36210 ] Pingback from Milblogology « Civilian Irregular Information Defense Group [January 31, 2008, 5:40 pm]

    […] Thursday, 31 January 2008 by cannoneerno4 The War Lord of Argghhh! was on a panel about milblogging which I just watched.   Sure wish I could have found the transcript!  I can read faster than those guys can talk.  I’ll never get that 1:18:52 back, but there were some nuggets in there, like when and where the next MilBlog Conference will be.  If you want to understand milblogging you ought to watch it.  […]

    [ # 38152 ] Comment from Wannabe [February 7, 2008, 3:56 pm]

    Great point from Jack that the Constitution specifies only two professions, beyond governmental leadership: soldiers and journalists.

    [ # 38156 ] Comment from Sydney [February 7, 2008, 4:06 pm]

    I attended Military Bloggers and America’s Wars at the Dole Institute of Politics on January 29, 2008. I really had no idea what to expect, but was truly fascinated with what the men had to say. I have never read a military blog, and knew nothing about them before the event. However, I learned a great deal about them and support the idea. Not only do they provide a way for communication, they make people more educated and involved in politics and war. The blogs really can change the way we see war and can provide us with different outlooks and view points. I learn about the world and the events taking place in it by the news. Yet, I realize that I am not receiving all of the facts and stories just by listening to CNN and local news channels. The blogs are a great way to hear what is going on from soldiers and veterans who are or have experienced it and have been a part of it.
    I believe blogging was a brilliant idea for the war veterans who did not like what they heard or saw from the media. There is no question that the Army does not want the truth to be known to all Americans; therefore it is obvious why the soldiers and veterans would be displeased with how the media is portraying the war. A person with military affiliation should have the right to tell their story, and to correct the inaccurate information that we are provided with from the media. They should also be the ones telling us what is going on, because they are the ones who know and can tell us the truth. However, most people do not read the blogs and only listen to the news.
    At the event, a question was addressed if blogging should replace reporters. One of the speakers, John Donovan, said no, and I agree with him. I believe that we still should have reporters; however, we also should have soldiers and veterans blogging about their stories and opinions, because that is extremely important information too. Hopefully more people will learn about the blogs and will start reading them.

    [ # 38221 ] Comment from Clayton [February 7, 2008, 6:53 pm]

    I found something interesting to note when the Military Bloggers spoke at KU. I found it notable that none of these men actually served on the “frontlines” so to speak in Iraq and actually blogged about it. One did serve in Afganistan, and I don’t mean to demean any of these men’s service (they all served in the Military or Air Force at one point), but these men were all effectively speaking in third person about members of our military blogging, though from a much more informed point of view. The phrase about how blogging is becoming the 5th estate that controls the press (the 4th estate) was also interesting, as was the note that the Constitution only speaks explicitly of two jobs, the Press and the Military.

    [ # 38224 ] Comment from Aaron [February 7, 2008, 7:01 pm]

    I also attended the Military blogging lecture held at KU and found it very interesting. One question I had though is the effect that military blogging has on perspective recruits to the armed forces. Has the stories told by bloggers effected the number of men and women joining the force? And if so what is the government doing to promote such an occupation?

    [ # 38232 ] Comment from journstudent101 [February 7, 2008, 7:24 pm]

    I had pretty high expectations for this event, Military Bloggers and America’s Wars, but unfortunately it was a let down for me personally. Being a military brat all my life I was hoping to have some really cool information to run home and tell my dad (a commanding Colonel in the Army Reserve) in hopes of impressing him! I came out with a few interesting concepts, but that was about it. The Milbloggers are out there trying to redirect the ideas of those people who are drawing inaccurate conclusions about the military from traditional media. They also break down the complex information people need to know, but put it into words the general public can understand. It was cool that the blogs allow a two way communication unlike TV, radio, newspaper, etc. I also liked that the blogs are not there to take a pro/anti war side. Their purpose is just to critique the current situations at hand. The comments made about some soldiers returning home-side and fading away because they lose their “online identity” from blogging was interesting, and sad. I have felt the effects of personality change right in my own home, and I hate that these men come back feeling lost. Okay I get the basics…so what makes these bloggers so cool and famous? I don’t really know. I was left wanting more. I felt like something from the whole event was missing, but hey maybe that was just me.

    [ # 38238 ] Comment from Tyler [February 7, 2008, 7:42 pm]

    Before this session at the Dole institute, I’ll be honest I barely knew what a blog was. It was great to find out so many new things and I think it’s a great idea for soldiers to be able to “journal” in a way and get responses. It provides entertainment and information for both them and us.

    [ # 38294 ] Comment from May Davis [February 7, 2008, 10:09 pm]

    I thought it was interesting that there is a whole military blog “community.” I had never before heard the term “blogosphere” before that night.
    That said, I do not think that it is an entire new estate, as was discussed, but perhaps an empowered public. The press does keep its ranks however, and can never be demolished by the power of the blogging public. There simply are not enough checks in the system should the press lose it’s position. I am scared of using blogs for information because it is so personally biased, and although those writing know the most about the subject, the subject is so often the self, and not the news in general. Once it becomes news in general, it is no longer the expertise of the blogger, and the press comes into play.
    I know it was said that the bloggers check themselves, but who really has time to look at everyones blogs. Certainly not those fighting for our country. And if they do have that sort of free time, that makes me feel a little, well, puzzled.

    [ # 38515 ] Comment from Jake [February 9, 2008, 12:54 am]

    I attended the military blogging session at KU and really had no idea what to expect. I came away realizing how much of an impact military blogging can have or is already having on our society. It takes away some of the power that major media companies have to alter or leave out certain details. The invention of television had a large impact on how people view wars, and this is the next step to really show people what war is all about. It’s also a good way to show people considering joining the military what they will be dealing with.

    [ # 38676 ] Comment from LT Nixon [February 9, 2008, 3:26 pm]

    Glad to know the higher education community is interested in our opinions. Kudos!

    [ # 39599 ] Comment from Kendra [February 13, 2008, 5:42 pm]

    Accounting Information system. This system allows the team to make sure they are making a profit the program tracks; costs, sales information, accounts payable/receivable, financial reports, and many other accounting functions. The accounting system also allows the team to have the opportunity to compare the restaurant and all the push carts to help them to determine which aspect of their business is making the most profit and which one may be losing profit.

    [ # 39600 ] Comment from Kendra [February 13, 2008, 5:44 pm]

    Sorry about the last post I copied and pasted the wrong thing and I don’t know how to remove the blog…..
    I also attended Military Bloggers and America’s Wars at the Dole Institute of Politics on January 29, 2008. Before attending this event I really did not know anything about internet blogging. After leaving the event I had a better understanding of what Military Blogging was; and the importance Military Blogging is to some Military members and their families.
    One of the speakers stated that, “Blogging allows America to be able to come into the life of the War.” I completely agree with this statement. Reading the Military Blogs allows individuals in America to have the opportunity to be informed on what is taking place at War. Blogging gives people the opportunity to fill in the blanks about the War and to gain insight from an individual who has first hand experience on what is taking place. Blogging allows a conformed critique about what is going on at War.

    [ # 40425 ] Comment from chip #6 [February 18, 2008, 10:21 pm]

    Military Blogging is bringing the power of information from the foxhole / frontlines to the homes of our citizens and the world via the internet. The process of soldiers telling their stories of daily challenges, successes and combat experiences has the potential to be one of the most powerful tools / weapons to influence the outcome of warfare. The military leadership’s trust in the soldier’s discipline and individual values is a work in progress. Over 90% of all soldiers possess the military discipline and individual values to operate freely and unconstrained by policies within the internet blogosphere. As history has proven, dynamic leaders that leverage the strength of their soldiers will be successful in battle, the internet is now a dynamic part of the ideological battlefield. All defenders of freedom, including frontline soldiers, must be leveraged to tell the truth across all domains of the battlefield. When done it will greatly impact the outcome of warfare in the 21st century; we cannot cede this key internet domain to the enemy or to those not there.

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