(photo from Fox News: www.foxnews.com/images/
Controversy continues over the Pentagon shutting off access to certain web sites for troops in Iraq. Take the Washington Post story published Friday that said:
“Most of the Web sites blocked by the Defense Department offer streaming music and video, as well as photo-sharing capabilities largely used to communicate with relatives and friends. They have grown in popularity at a time when troops are facing extended tours of duty and support for the war is fading”
The article took a scornful view of the official reasons advanced for this filtering — that the Defense Department was concerned that it might be running out of bandwidth:
“Reporters questioned . . . whether bandwidth usage had ever reached a point where military operations would be compromised. (A Pentagon spokeswoman) said it had not, and characterized the department’s decision as “proactive.”
As a former Navy enlisted man in the in the waning days of the Vietnam War, I’ve been astonished throughout this occupation at the war front blogs posted by servicemen, some of whom have gone on to have their works published as books. (Here is a profile of one such gent who won the Lulu.com Blooker prize for turning a blog into a book.)
When I was in the service about 30 years ago none of these links between home and the front existed. News was filtered through Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, affectionately pronounced A-farts in honor of the acronym AFRTS by which it was universally known. If you’ve ever seen the movie Good Morning Vietnam, starring comedian Robin Williams, that is AFRTS. I was Robin Williams but on a ship rather than land. Each day at sea I would go up to the ship’s top-secret communications room. I never set foot inside. The radioman on duty would hand me a few sheets of wire copy through a gated door. I would go back to read this trickle of news to my shipmates on a nightly television news show. That was their incoming contact with the outside world. (FYI, if there are any book agents reading, I have an entire novel to this effect sitting on the shelf; it needs work but due to downsizing at my newspaper I may have free time soon.)
Back in my day, outbound contact was limited to trans-Pacific phone calls and letters through the postal system. Today, a serviceman or woman in Iraq can go online and see or hear anything; say or do, anything. Create an avatar on Second Life and imagine themselves strolling down a virtual sidewalk where there is no danger that an IAD exposive device will send them to heaven (as in a story about 20-year-old private first class Brett Tribble.)
Generals know that morale and discipline require the maintenance of a mindset that in inculcated from boot camp and must be maintained the field — obey orders without question. Generals know how technologies have been used in the past to undermine local command authority. Charles De Gaulle suppressed a mutiny by French generals in Algeria because draftees, who heard his speech on transistor radios, refused to follow the coup leaders.
So when the Pentagon says it is limiting the high-speed link between civilian life and the occupation force — well, I believe that as much as I believe most of what I’ve read about Iraq. For all I know, their “proactive” stance making sure that nobody starts a viral campaign urging soldiers to say hell no, we won’t go on patrol.
Meanwhile, judging by the tone of the Washington Post article, the press corps has finally rediscovered its skepticism. Pity the press had not expressed more doubt when it printed anonymously-sourced, false stories about Nigerian yellow — before we put a hundred thousand young Americans in between Iraqi factions whose hatred of one another is so intense that they will blow up themselves, young children and any American who may get in the way.