02. May 2007 · Comments Off on Power and Control · Categories: Fun and Games, General, Military, My Head Hurts, Rant, Stupidity, World

Well, so much for active-duty Army mil-blogging, if the Army Powers-That-Be have their way. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, public affairs-wise… but color me fairly unsurprised by this latest move to constrain active-duty Army bloggers. Frankly, if I am surprised at anything, it’s that milblogs by active-duty troops managed to escape the clammy clutches of the Public Affairs office for as long as they have. For a long while, I thought that someone up in the higher-echelons was actually being rather clever; in taking the hands-off approach. Milblogs got the word out, without being tainted by association with military propaganda; about the war, about the military, provided expert commentary and feedback, under no particular censorship other than that of good sense and op-sec as practiced by the individual.

For surely the military public affairs world must have known about military bloggers, fairly early on (say at least by 2002). I myself made a long slog up to the PA shop at BAMC about that time, offering to pass on any appeals they might have on behalf of injured troops. This was when Blondie was over in Kuwait, and our readers at the time were overwhelmingly generous to her unit… to the point where I wanted to see it shared with other troops. I talked to a civilian PA type, who at least had heard of military blogs, and promised to pass on my e-mail and URL to his superiors, and that was the last I ever heard. I’d have thought, based on my own experience, that as interested as the Public Affairs was in traditional media coverage of the military… I’d have seen a little more interest. Unless they were total boobs about this newfangled internet thingy. That wouldn’t have surprised me… much, but assuming some sort of hands-off policy at least gave credit for intelligence and creative thinking at the highest military PA level.

But… and that is the industrial-sized, multi-purpose, all-wool-and-a-yard-wide but (Hey, who let Rosie O’Donnell in here?). But… the military is an authoritarian institution. Top down and paved wall-to-wall with regulations for most things. As a rough rule of thumb, those in charge are supposed to have an idea about what the lower ranks are up to… yes, even you, General Karpinski. And those in charge prefer that those lower down the chain of command are doing what they have been told to do. Personal initiative is all very nice, and even lauded from those who have proved they can exercise it wisely and responsibly. For everyone else, there are rules. And it is one of those lamentable realities of the military world that almost the first reaction to a new situation or set of conditions is to make a rule or regulation about it. Leopard, spots, can’t change. Reaction, knee-jerk, officers for the use of.

I thought the Army was about the most extreme in this regard; the Air Force generally operated on the initial assumption that their personnel were intelligent and responsible, and only descended like a ton of bricks when an individual decisively proved the contrary. The Army seemed to operate from the opposite set of assumptions…possibly because it either saved time or was just easier. I saw a perfect example of this during my year in Korea, at Yongsan Garrison. Out of the clear blue, the Army Powers-That-Be suddenly forbade uniformed personnel to consume food from street-vendors, unless it was something like a sealed soft-drink can, or something in a package. Probably some poor troop got a tummy-ache from a bite of bad bulgogi at a street stand, but after a great deal of vociferous complaint and requests for clarification (what constituted the sort of food that was forbidden, what exactly was a street vender? Some of the open-air vendors were pretty permanent establishments!) the Powers-That-Be grudgingly clarified their purpose; which was that they didn’t want us to be eating food prepared by unlicensed vendors. Well, asked we at AFN… wouldn’t it be more logical just to tell people to not eat from unlicensed vendors… maybe, perhaps, maybe teach our audience what a Korean Department of Health food-vendor’s license looked like, and how to request it politely?
Certainly not, returned the Army Powers-That-Be, rather grumpily… that was not how the Army did things.

Ah, said we, in resignation… Of course; it was just the easy way. Not the most thoughtful way, or the way that encouraged people’s own sense of self-preservation, or the way that preserved the livelihood of those hard-working and licensed local national food vendors, or the way that might truly protect uniformed personnel from bad food. It was just the easy way. Make a rule.

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