The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

THE GREAT BLOG SCARE |

November 24, 2006

THE GREAT BLOG SCARE
Name: Tadpole
Posting date: 11/24/06
Stationed in
: Afghanistan
Milblog url: armysailor.com

I have been reading reports about a 10-man Virginia National Guard team that has been stood up to keep track of blogs, and that the DoD is going to start looking more carefully at blogs. I've noticed a lot of military bloggers seem to be a bit worried. Some have even gone so far as to voluntarily shut down their blogs. This sort of self-censorship scares me. It should scare you too. Don't get me wrong, I certainly understand the need to maintain OPSEC. I carefully review my posts to ensure they don't violate any OPSEC guidelines. The last thing I want to do is aid the enemy. However, it strikes me that the DoD may be making a huge mistake by putting enough of a scare in military bloggers to cause some to silence themselves.

The "War on Terror" is not very popular these days. When it does make the news (which doesn't seem to be often), it's usually bad news. Those of us serving on the front lines are much more likely to draw a more realistic picture of what is going on, and are more likely to highlight the positive things we are doing. Every reporter has an agenda. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines do not. We only want to share our stories. If anything, I think the DoD should be encouraging Military Bloggers.

The civilian news media loves to over-emphasize deaths, and negative news. Gore sells. But it does not tell the whole story. Now don't get me wrong, I do not mean to belittle the deaths of American GIs. No one is more appalled than I am by the fact that on average we lose one soldier every nine hours. However, if we are to draw an accurate picture of the war, we must also talk about the good things those soldiers are doing. The civilian news media tends not to mention the schools we build, the medical missions we conduct, the clinics we build, the training we give the local populace, the roads we build, the promise of a better future we bring. Our positive efforts in Afghanistan can not succeed unless we have the complete support of the civilian community at home, and we can not reasonably expect to get that support if the only news they hear is negative.

The fact remains that every Major News Outlet in the United States has a political agenda. Their stories are tainted by that agenda. I have an agenda also. Mine is to let the people know the truth, as best I can. I will promise this much: If I am asked to change or remove an article due to an OPSEC violation, I will. However, I will not be silenced, and I most certainly will not voluntarily shut down my blog. Our story must be told, and it must be told in a manner commensurate with the sacrifices we make daily.

Comments

I, for one of many, couldn't agree with you more about the media and the hype surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan.

Part of the issue, I believe is exacerbated by the fact that information is so readily available and facts are not. Many civilians (non-military, and non-elected officials) draw our own conclusions by siding with newsbearers and politicians who have that "agenda" you mentioned. It is unfortunate that the thinking process stops so soon in so many, without realizing FACTS on both sides of the issues.

While I also have my disagreements with various policies and strategies, I also know that I don't have all the facts.

On the other hand, what I DO know is that you guys are doing one hell of a job, especially in light of the know-littles and the know-nothings.

There are also those who do take an obective view and behave accordingly. It would be nice to hear from more of them. Avoiding Censorship has always been an issue anytime we see the need to defend our country. We need to look at the censorship issue with a spirit of patriotism, both in the protection of that freedom, and what we are willing to sacrifice for it.

Jake

In my mind there is only one side. I'm entirely begind the effort in Afghanistan, and know there is good work being done despite the comments from the non support off side.

As long as you write from your side and there isn't any advertising budget paying for your words, I will read and enjoy. Kind of like letters home to people you trust that care. Write on, I will read and DOD can get back to fighting the war, which is where they should be, why are they in Virginia? Ah, so they aren't in your (the soldier & Marine's) way in Afghanistan and Iraq, good idea.

Dear Sir, or Tadpole. whichever you prefer; I bet this blog post and the responses are already drawing scrutiny. Hats off to you for bringing up the subject! Self-censorship is perhaps the worst kind, as it says to me that freedom of speech is not considered worth the struggle. I believe human dignity begins with freedom of speech. If we don't have the right to speak our minds, those in charge have no respect for us, wether we are soldiers, environmentalists, or anti-war activists. And if we have the human (and constitutional) right to free speech, it follows that we have the right to unbiased, unspun information on which to base our opinions. Good reporters are driven to present that which is before them; what the industry does to it seems highly manipulated. I have gleaned the distinct impression that "the news" is regarded not as a vehicle of truth, but as a marketable product outside the parameters of what would constitute impartial information.The flow of information is being gated by fewer and fewer corporations, and there does seem to be a strong donor connection to our chief exceutive. If that is what you mean by "agenda," then we agree. Being an individual of strong opinions, I have some ideas on why the good stuff some of you guys are obviously dedicated to doing is not getting proper recognition. The apprehension is that there is a war on; war is about things that go ka-boom. Danger and drama do wonders for building public support for politicians that might not look so good without the distraction of gore. Sustained efforts by Americans toward shoring-up infrastructure beyond the 'aren't we wonderful' feel-good stories reeks of foreign aid, and that is a dirty word. Foreign aid is anathema to those who tout America First and tax cuts. Being nice to minimally washed foreigners is against our jingoistic tradition of natural superiority, if they were as good as we are, they wouldn't need help. And if you look back a few years, uh, didn't we put the guys that ruined everything in power? Oh, there are some little problems now? (Hey, look over there!) Grassroots work is the kind of stuff that NGOs do, and we all know how un-American they are. There have been NGO staffers and locals working and dying in Afghanistan and other places for a very long time. They get zip for recognition, pay, or military or taxpayer support. Yet building sustainable infrastructure is the only thing which can make a difference over the long haul. So, welcome to the select inner circle of those who want to do the right thing! Just get used to the fact that most people don't give a damn. Be sure to compliment yourself once in a while, because it may the only recognition you'll get, but at least you'll be certain it's sincere. I seem to have strayed from the subject, but I want to say is: keep writing. You never know what good may come of it. It's the positive thing to do, no matter who doesn't approve. Cheers!

The news we as Americans get is the news we deserve, or expect, or are willing to watch. TV news in particular has turned the whole demographics thing into such a fine art.The primary agenda of any news outlet is to get more viewers watching "Me" than you have watching "you".
The primary politics practised in newsrooms is the politics of convenience-we will get more viewers if we tilt a little this way, and WE will get more viewers if we tilt thataway. I listen to people here kvetch about the biased news, and just have to shake my head-they have no clue and have never been exposed to news outside of this country. Biased? Take a look thru London's Sun and Daily Mail. IF you can get past the page 3 eye freezers of some of those publications...
Americans have to check multiple sources for their news instead of relying on just one.
Having spent more than half of my military career overseas, doing more good deeds than not as we waited for the Cold War to turn hot, I can also tell you that no news outlet will ever overload on reporting the building good will projects. HA, not even AFRTS, if it means giving up one sports score or soap opera rerun. Viewers wouldn't stand for it. Rhetorical question: How many of you now in uniform anywhere in the world had any idea that you'd be doing things like painting schools, building clinics, teaching something useful or just fun when you first entered the service?
And then how many people know how much community invovlement and support Kroger and it's employees provide? And GE? I was amazed at just how much-I'd had no idea, and they are never mentioned in the news either...There's a lot of it out there, always has been. But exciting, it's not. Not to the viewers, who ultimately determine what ends up on or in the news.

I enjoyed your post but it makes me wonder what assurance we have that you are not simply a soldier that is supposed to spread positive propaganda to us americans back in the homeland.

Thanks Tadpole. We NEED the truth.

Dear Tadpole.

I appreciate your writing about writing about your service. I am grateful for your efforts, especially since your good intentions are so clear.

I have not had a tv in over 30 years and I try to get my news from international sources (think BBC) as well as local radio and magazines. But I especially appreciate the point of view that you and others give us on the Sandbox. It is more authentic than anything else I have come across.

But how do I respectfully disagree without having you think I don't appreciate you?

I just want to ask if it would not be inconceivable for civilians (supported by a government, paid to do the job, with benefits, etc.) to help build schools, medical facilities and other infrastructure. Civilians helping civilians.

I know a whole lot of factors would have had to be different. Or, would need to be different now. And of course it is complicated. I just don't think the idea of militarizing "help" can be a long lasting effort seen with the good will individual soldiers intend it to be.

I hope you and everyone else, civilian and military, stay safe.

In good spirit,

Bonnie

I work for a smaller daily newspaper and we have lots of news about good deeds in the paper, corporate and individual. Today, thanks to web technology, we know exactly which stories are most popular. Good deeds get some readers, but they badly trail the number of hits recorded by
(1) crimes and car accidents and (2) new stores and restaurants opening up. Stories about local political issues--the info people need to vote in local elections--don't fare terribly well either. As far as I know, though, we do plan to go on covering good deeds and politics, along with the crime and the shopping that people seem to prefer.
I think most everyone knows that most of our troops are fine people who do their best to help the people around them, in Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever. Locally, we cover the Marines' toys for tots event every year. Personally, I've written a couple of profiles of young local soldiers that reflected their idealism as they went about their dangerous jobs.
But all of that good news is beside the point if our central mission--establishing a democracy, or even just some kind of stable government that is not hostile to the United States--cannot be achieved at something like a reasonable cost, in a reasonable amount of time. At this point it seems that we went into Iraq and Afghanistan with good intentions, but we were hopelessly naive about what would happen after we got there and upended the local despots.
We all wish you well and acknowledge the work you are doing--your blog is far from being the least important part of that work.

Tadpole, keep on sending those blogs! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do. Stay Safe. God Bless You.
Carol

with all due respect, and a lot is obviously due, I don't think a fire team leader at the tip of the spear really has the perspective to give us any big-picture truth. You know about the truth of what happens in your platoon. And that's pretty darn important to you. But repainting a school in the context of a war that sees many homes destroyed and civilians killed by bombing every month, well, what looks big from up close may not really be that big.

While I commanded an outpost in a combat zone in an earlier war, I thought it was huge that a squad got fired up, nearly a dozen casualties. It didn't even make the news back in the world.

Excellent post and subsequent conversation.

I feel your perspective, Tadpole, while respected and valued in the context of this blog, cannot be given equal gravitus with national (read as AP, Reuters, Etc) news sources.

That said, your part of the story is needed here.

Thanks for that.

So very true. As someone who works in the media, it gets pretty disheartening to see the bias that exists in a source that's meant to be objective. I even see it at a small town newspaper. Some days I think the objectivity of the media is nothing but a myth. I wish more people could read your blog, and the blog of others who are over there. It gives a whole new perspective. Good for you for not shutting yours down.

Everyone has an agenda. Don't shoot the press, they're only the messenger.

If there is a team keeping track of military blogs, it is disheartening, but not surprising, in this age of secret prisons and military tribunals.

I support you in Afghanistan, that is the war we should have poured the 100k plus troops into. Otherwise, you have been done a diservice by incompetent DOD leadership and a dishonest commander in chief.

I second that last comment. Everybody's got an agenda.

But I don't think that's a bad thing. It's only bad when you can only get news from one point of view.

I read this site every day and am extremely thankful that you share your thoughts. Please, keep it up for as long as you can.

You are so right! Keep on writing the truth to encourage those of us who are forced to verbally defend what you are doing each and every day!

Blog on! I only recently discovered this network of service people's blogs and have already come to value it as my only real source of information from the front lines. Keep up the good work.

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