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March 18, 2010
The Lost City of MarjahBy Greyhawk
"For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War," writes Gareth Porter of the recent Marjah campaign in Afghanistan.
That statement has some truth to it, but as far as followings go, Olympic Women's Curling probably drew a bigger crowd. And while much of the coverage of the Marjah campaign was outstanding, with many embedded reporters providing details from on-scene, much more of it (no doubt produced with TV ratings in mind) was just awful.
For Porter all that meant maybe, just maybe, he could write a story like this one, and people would believe it.
It's a great conspiracy theory - claiming that a major city was situated precisely where one obviously wasn't is even more audacious than claiming a nation had weapons of mass destruction when they really didn't. But it's riskier, too - anyone spending a minute with Google Earth could expose the "big city" claim as fraud without any room for arguments to the contrary.
"But wouldn't even the most effective propaganda campaign have collapsed," you might wonder, "when at least one of the many reporters embedded with the Marines eventually noticed that the city they were supposedly assaulting did not exist?"
Why, no - they're the obedient major news media, after all. But what happened - in Porter's story - was that one mysterious "official of the International Security Assistance Force" found the courage (or maybe Porter's tenaciousness simply wore him down) to at last admit The Truth.
And now we know that all those DoD and news media photos and videos showing Marjah as a rural area are, um, somehow part of the, er, um... vast military industrial, uh... We are left to imagine what fate might befall that hapless whistle blower if his name was known to those whose evil manipulations he'd exposed!
Okay, no. Actually we aren't. Because that actually is a guy who can't tolerate twisted manipulation of truth - as practiced by Gareth Porter.
Gareth's argument is supported by an ISAF official "who asked not to be identified" confirming that Marjah is a "rural community" -- which adds to the air of a secret plot revealed. Except there's no secret. The official was me, and I didn't ask to be quoted anonymously.Damn, perfectly good tinfoil hat - ruined by ISAF spokesman Lt Col Tadd Sholtis, writing on his personal blog.
[Porter] has somehow managed to convince himself and a bunch of people repeating his post that briefings and press accounts describing the rural community of Marjah as a "town" or "city" was somehow a misinformation campaign by the evil militarists of 40-plus nations who are committed to eroding their political support by duping the public into extending an unpopular war in the hopes of killing as many brown people as possible. Or something like that. A search for clear motives tends to muddle an otherwise pristine paranoia.
Porter's motive, on the other hand, seems a bit more clear - and he doesn't need to sway rational people to achieve his goal, just enough people. So if an actual US military spokesman is the person telling you Marjah isn't a major urban area, but you still write a story about a US military fraud supported by major media, then describing that (as Sholtis does) as a case of someone jumping "off the Reason Train short of Plausible Junction" sounds just about right. Or maybe too kind.
It's absurd beyond any semblance of reason. But Google a quote from Porter and you'll find quite a crowd - not limited to blogs. Google a quote from the response (which also includes the text of an email sent to Porter) and you'll discover that if there's any such thing as a reason train, it's got plenty of empty seats.
Tasked with briefing the press in Afghanistan, Sholtis has probably seen more than a few of those.
More on Marjah here. (There are plenty of valid reasons it's too bad no one was paying attention...)
More Women's Curling here.
Posted by Greyhawk / March 18, 2010 8:41 AM | 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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