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November 6, 2008
The Wedding CrashersBy Greyhawk
Abu Muqawama, writing from Beirut:
Another thing we learned during the Syria raid? Our information operations still suck. The self-serving Syrian narrative -- that those killed were civilians, including women and children -- has persisted unchallenged in the press here in Beirut and abroad despite an AP photographer seeing the bodies of seven men at the funeral. The PAO response after one of these raids must be swift and overwhelming. Within the Arabic-language media and much of the non-American English-language media, the Syrian narrative dominated. And if you can't beat a slow-moving autocracy like Syria in an IO campaign, how do you expect to beat the Taliban?Contra McCain ("I'd rather lose an election than a war"), the motto of the US military might be "we'd rather lose a war then release a statement before we've had several months to investigate the issue and clear it with our attorneys."
It's frustrating, but there are good reasons for slow response. First among them is a real desire to get the facts and a knowledge of "the fog of war". While this may seem quaint and charming to a reporter whose job is to sell papers or attract viewers (and who may or may not be motivated by a desire to shape opinion), and is certainly an exploitable weakness by an enemy who wants to recruit suicide bombers, it's still a worthy goal. There are reasons for that beyond whatever value one places on "truth". Among them, "the Army" (as opposed to the enemy or a reporter) while portrayed as "the accused" in any such story is actually the agency that must investigate and possibly prosecute any incident. This task is taken seriously, and public statements can infringe on rights of the actual (or potential) accused. Factor in that anything "wrong" in an initial response will make headlines for days ("coverup" "incompetence" etc. etc.) and the case for accuracy over speed becomes unbeatable.
But this doesn't eliminate a need for speed, and thus far "the Army" ain't gettin' it done. Even the most cautious and brief official (or even unofficial, off the record) statement on that Syrian incident could have included a reference to the AP report ("An Associated Press journalist at the funerals in the village's cemetery saw the bodies of seven men -- none of them children. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained") - but didn't.
Another story from last week is less well known - likely because there were no claims of civilian casualties. Instead, the reporter merely portrayed American soldiers as panicked, trigger-happy goons responding to an IED attack by sending "thousands of rounds" into the darkness of the night, in a location where "there could be Afghan homes". That response might be expected, might even be excusable to some degree - but amazingly, it didn't happen.
How can I state that emphatically? Because the reporter was there, and the video he shot of the incident demonstrates his claims are false. One can't infer from this example that "troops never fire indiscriminately" in the wake of an attack, but one can perceive motive in the reporter's statements in the face of facts, and expand that motive to editors who saw fit to publish his story. (At least, based purely on available evidence a more solid case can be made for that claim then for any made by the reporter in question.) Pointing out that sort of personal/institutional bias certainly isn't the business (and arguably isn't in the interest) of the U.S. military, but pointing - even in a brief statement - to the "discrepancy" between what a reporter says on a video and what that video shows seems worthwhile and "fair".
But while the military didn't, milbloggers (some tipped by contacts within the unit) did - to a degree that the reporter in question felt compelled to defend himself from their "smears" - using the lack of response ("The US military has not challenged my reporting") by the military as the cornerstone of his defense. (For the record: I confirmed with the unit in question that while they have responded to bloggers' inquiries there has been no official response or complaint made to the journalist or his paper.)
But all that is old news. Here's the new news - and it's a twofer:
Foreign forces have killed seven civilians in an air strike in northwest Afghanistan, officials said on Thursday, a day after the Afghan president said warplanes had killed 40 civilians in the south.But the military is all over it:
"We do not know the facts at this time but we will investigate this situation to get to the truth. We take our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan very seriously and take extensive measures to avoid circumstances where non-combatant civilians are placed at risk," he said.Although knocked from headlines by the subsequent attack report, additional details on the earlier attack are being reported. Al Jazeera:
The US military says that Taliban fighters prevented civilians from fleeing clashes in southern Afghanistan, leading to the death of about 40 people who were believed to have been attending a wedding ceremony.That story includes quotes from the father of the bride, but no indications whether he said anything to confirm or deny the "hostage" story.
Meanwhile, according to the BBC "Mr Karzai called on Barack Obama to prevent civilian casualties when he takes over as US president." That would go a step beyond the President-elect's statement (pledge?) implying that he favors doing more than just air raiding villages and killing civilians (the U.S. has "gotta get the job done" in Afghanistan which "requires us to have enough troops that we're not just air raiding villages and killing civilians which is causing enormous problems there). However, some have interpreted that as a pledge to stop air raiding villages and killing civilians, so it's possible that once he's in office we'll no longer see these types of reports.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 6, 2008 3:23 PM | Permalink
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...)
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