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December 27, 2005
Information Operations (I)By Greyhawk
Across the country from New York to LA and few points in between, journalists were outraged at the revelation that the US military was paying to have "good news" stories run in Iraqi papers. I couldn't see the problem - but I'm not a complicated man. From my simple perspective the story boils down to this: I have a gun. You have a gun. I can talk you into setting that gun down, or I can shoot you. This, I believe, is the fundamental concept - the moral imperative, in fact - establishing the need for such information operations in a war zone. Of course, people getting shot is what the front page of the paper is all about, so perhaps reducing that number equals reduced sales - and this of course, will fuel "outrage" from those dependent on those sales to pay for the next drinking binge when the pangs of guilt start gnawing into their conscience. But I digress...
When Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) originally demanded an investigation into those stories he labeled the program "a devious scheme to place favorable propaganda in Iraqi newspapers." That investigation is nearly complete, but based on those comments he likely won't be happy with the result:
Iraq Info Ops Review Yields No Wrongdoing, Casey SaysAnd Senator Kennedy will likely not be alone in his anger - when that final report is issued there will be more outrage in the American media.
As there was in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime when the media was "outraged" over having been duped by another "skilled" propagandist. From a CENTCOM press briefing, April 11, 2003:
GEN. BROOKS:...I would add that information-wise, the coalition governments have identified a list of key regime leaders who must be pursued and brought to justice. The key list has 55 individuals who may be pursued, killed or captured, and the list does not exclude leaders who may have already been killed or captured. This list has been provided to coalition forces on the ground in several forms to ease identification when contact does occur. And this deck of cards is one example of what we provide to soldiers out -- soldiers and marines out in the field -- with the faces of the individuals and what their role is. In this case, there are 55 cards in the deck...The "joker" was Mohammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf - dubbed "Baghdad Bob" he became a source of comic relief to many. Few will forget his insistence that there were no Americans near Baghdad, a claim delivered straight-faced as US battle tanks rumbled in the background.
But in those claims he was aided and abetted by some in the western media:
Was it true, the Iraqi minister of information was asked at his daily 2pm press conference (11pm NZT) - a routine institution of usually deadly tedium - that the Americans were at the airport?That's the report from British journalist Robert Fisk, dated 4 April 2003. In fact, the US had taken the airport the day prior, and on 5 April it served as the launch point for the first Thunder Run - a tank excursion through Baghdad proper that proved so effective that plans were changed on the fly and a second attack launched two days later toppled the regime.
At first perplexing - and as noted, a source of amusement to many - the disinformation campaign actually had a purpose. The target wasn't the outside world, it was the citizens of Baghdad who, it was hoped, would be duped into going about their normal routine that day.
Colonel Raaed Faik was riding with fellow Republican Guard officers on a civilian bus thirty-two kilometers northeast of Baghdad that morning, trying to obey an order to rush to Baghdad to join in the defense of the city. They were to help keep Highway 8 open for a counterattack. Faik was a senior signal officer in the Republican Guard, but he was dressed now in civilian clothes. The chief of staff had radioed an order for this division to fight without uniforms in hopes of mounting an effective guerilla war against the American forces on the streets of Baghdad. But some officers had not received the order, and they were still in their uniforms. They bickered with the plainclothes officers over how to dress for the battle.The plan for the defense of Baghdad was a long, bloody seige, fought by soldiers in civilian clothes on streets crowded with actual civilians. With no hope of military victory, the leadership in Iraq wanted to create a global outrage, fueled by media reports of civilian casualties (actual and otherwise) and other atrocities, to the point where the US would ultimately withdraw humiliated. Far from being humorous, the claims of Mohammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf and Robert Fisk - made willingly or witlessly - had a deadly serious purpose: maximize the number of real civilians on the streets along with those soldiers posing as the same. The goal? Photographs of mounds of civilian corpses splashed across front pages and news broadcasts worldwide.
That protracted combat never happened, by the 9th of April the fall of Baghdad would be marked by the fall of a statue in Firdos Square.
But the plan lives on in cities and towns through al Anbar and other provinces, (see Fallujah, April 2004) where "ex-regime loyalists" and former military officers went home from the war to build an "insurgency" that confronts coalition forces - including the new government of Iraq - to this day.
Enemy information operations in those towns may not have the level of organization the government of Saddam Hussein could provide, but in areas where all news is local and communication is mostly by word of mouth there are still effective methods for spreading propaganda:
On July 29, a platoon from the 5th Battalion's Alpha Company entered a concrete block house south of Balad. A 15-year-old girl threw herself at the Americans.
John Guardiano served in Iraq in 2003 with a Marine Civil Affairs Group. A reservist, his civilian job is journalist, and this month his work appeared in the Wall Street Journal:
The latest Iraq "scandal" the politicians and the media have discovered is the U.S. military's alleged covert purchase of favorable articles in the Iraqi press. This alleged "propaganda campaign . . . violates fundamental principles of Western journalism," reports the New York Times.The information operations in Iraq may be doomed to failure. But attempting to reduce casualties, even with little chance of success, is not a war crime - indeed, it is a necessity. Again, I have a gun. You have a gun. I can talk you into setting that gun down, or I can shoot you.
I say we give peace a chance.
Posted by Greyhawk / December 27, 2005 6:49 PM | Permalink
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November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com