MilBloggers The New Ernie Pyles
Jonathan Finer has a front page story in today’s Washington Post about the significance of milbloggers.
There were no reporters riding shotgun on the highway north of Baghdad when a roadside bomb sent Sgt. Elizabeth Le Bel’s Humvee lurching into a concrete barrier. The Army released a three-sentence statement about the incident in which her driver, a fellow soldier, was killed. Most news stories that day noted it briefly. But a vivid account of the attack appeared on the Internet within hours of the crash last Dec. 4. Unable to sleep after arriving at the hospital, Le Bel hobbled to a computer and typed 1,000 words of what she called “my little war story” into her Web log, or blog, titled “Life in this Girl’s Army,” at http:www.sgtlizzie.blogspot.com. “I started to scream bloody murder, and one of the other females on the convoy came over, grabbed my hand and started to calm me down. She held onto me, allowing me to place my leg on her shoulder as it was hanging free,” Le Bel wrote. “I thought that my face had been blown off, so I made the remark that I wouldn’t be pretty again LOL. Of course the medics all rushed with reassurance which was quite amusing as I know what I look like now and I don’t even want to think about what I looked like then.”
Since the 1850s, when a London Times reporter was sent to chronicle the Crimean War, journalists have generally provided the most immediate, first-hand depictions of major conflicts. But in Iraq, service members themselves are delivering real-time dispatches — in their own words — often to an audience of thousands through postings to their blogs.
“I was able to jot a few lines in every day, and it just grew from there,” Le Bel, 24, of Haverhill, Mass., said in an e-mail. Her Web site has received about 45,000 hits since she started it a year ago.
At least 200 active-duty soldiers currently keep blogs. Only about a dozen blogs were in existence two years ago when the U.S. invaded Iraq, according to “The Mudville Gazette” ( http:www.mudvillegazette.com/ ), a clearinghouse of information on military blogging administered by an Army veteran who goes by the screen name Greyhawk.
Written in the casual, sometimes profane language of the barracks, they give readers an unfiltered perspective on combat largely unavailable elsewhere. But they are also drawing new scrutiny and regulation from commanders concerned they could compromise security.
In April, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the top tactical commander in Iraq, published the military’s first policy memorandum on Web sites maintained by soldiers, requiring that all blogs maintained by service members in Iraq be registered. The policy also barred bloggers from publishing classified information, revealing the names of service members killed or wounded before their families could be notified and providing accounts of incidents still under investigation. “We don’t have a problem with most of what they write, but we don’t want to give away the farm,” said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a military spokesman in Baghdad, who said such guidelines are nearly identical to those required of news organizations that cover the military.
The policy seems quite reasonable.
Soldiers have long kept diaries and sent letters home from the war zone, of course. Some have even published books. But, as CSM’s Brad Knickerbocker wrote recently,
This is the first war in which American GIs and military families can communicate freely and in real time via e-mail and cellphone, while gathering endless amounts of information about the situation in Iraq via the Internet – some of it trustworthy, much of it unreliable.
Of course, much of the reporting from professional journalists is “unreliable” as well. That’s the nature of first hand accounts without the advantage of the big picture perspective. Taken collectively, though, the milblogs provide excellent and unique perspective on what’s going on.