08 August 2009

Take an online trip of peace

Take an online trip of peace.

Once a coworker at the hospital in Iraq asked me, "Has Public Affairs approved your blog?"

I replied, "No, but there's nothing in there they could reasonably object to."

Shortly after that, I got a message my commander wanted to review my blog. I gathered up everything I had written and delivered it to him.

"Looks good to me" he said, "carry on!"

I heard scattered stories of troops being ordered to shut down their blogs or being disciplined for something they might have posted online. I do realize sometimes our young citizens, in or out of a war zone, post some pretty ridiculous stuff, the kind of pictures and stories that they might just find themselves explaining in a future job interview. But isn't that the spirit of freedom of speech? Our right to speak our minds is not predicated on how smart, stupid, or even outrageous the statement might be. In fact, it is most important to protect the outlandish stuff because as soon as you let one voice be stifled, we are all are in danger.

There are many military blogs I have visited. One of the earliest I read was BlackFive:


which used to give breathtaking accounts of missions from behind the rifle.

You can find a vast variety of over 2400 military blogs (including mine!) at Milblogging.com:


After reading just a few, you quickly realize how every soldier (or soldier's wife back home) has a vibrant story to tell.

I also understand that as a troop, I had willing submitted to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is kind of like the dress code, behavior code, and imposition on every moment of life that I was subject to when I went to a Catholic school. The difference is that the rules in school were strictly defined and interpreted by the brothers, but the UCMJ is a vast mess of contradicting regulations on such scattered minutia such as which side of the belt I was supposed to wear my hospital beeper. For better or worse, it doesn't seem like any one person actually knows all of the UCMJ, so the lawyers in the JAG can swing it whichever way they choose to argue.

For my part, I self-policed very severely and never revealed a patient's name, any interpreter's photo, or any details that could give the enemy an advantage. I suppose we had it easier than WWII troops who had the censors heavy black pen blotting out large portions of their letters.

There is a huge value in having troops on the front line able to communicate their thoughts, dreams and fears directly to the world at large. Lots of people in the US would be surprised at the low opinion many people in the world have of us, and that's just because they don't know us as individuals.


By letting the soldier have a voice, the world can see Americans for who they really are: hopeful people who fulfil their duties even as they miss their families at home.

A recent article described how the Pentagon was considering a complete ban on access to any blogging or social networking sites, even though some leaders understood the importance of maintaining these lines of communication.


While in the military, I attended Air War College, and learned the thinkers in the military realized the strategic importance of conducting Internet communication as a form of soft power. In fact it seemed as if Al Qaida had realized the value of the online channel and was using it as a means of recruitment and propaganda. I learned about Public Diplomacy, a little known and less well understood function of our State Department that aims to communicate to citizens of other nations that the USA is a land of freedom and opportunity. I also learned that it received very poor funding.


There are groups in the world, such as the Saudi Arabian Sakinah Campaign (it means "Tranquility") who scan the web for Al-Qaida activists and engage them in online communication to try and combat their message of intolerance.


Young people around the world look to the Internet for their information about the US. One interesting site I found is Mideast Youth, based in Bahrain, where young adults discuss issues from the Iranian election to the role of the US in the Middle East.


It is important that young Americans join the dialogue, and who better to represent us than our dedicated troops.

A friend in Spain gave me this saying: "Travel plants a seed of peace in the heart of the visitor and the visited." There is no reason that trip of peace can't happen online.

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