Every war seems to bring with it an unexpected aspect unforeseen by The Pentagon. The War in Iraq – whether being called by The White House the War on Terror or the Struggle Against Global Extremism, depending on which is testing best this week – is in truth our first digital war.
The proliferation of cell phones, Blackberries and laptops has made imbedded media correspondents irrelevant. Now, hundreds of soldiers, regardless of their rank, their politics or their point of view are taking advantage of technology to become war correspondents.
Blogs eloquently tell about chaotic triage, question the wisdom of command strategies and plumb personal fears are sent daily – and sometimes, hourly. These ruminations on life in Iraq, including photographs, are inspiring generals to look for the delete button.
Only now is the mainstream media discovering the blogs and the availability of interviews with soldiers in the Middle East. And predictably, the Pentagon is gently trying to get a grip on a movement it did not foresee.
Somehow, it seems incredible that a command structure and its minions, vested with the ability to order planes costing $1 billion each, was incapable of seeing the potential impact of average GI’s talk directly and plainly with the folks back home.
As John Hockenberry says in an excellent article, “The Blogs of War,” in August’s Wired (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/milblogs.html), it is producing an “oddball online Greek chorus narrating the conflict in Iraq.” “On the 21st-century battlefield, the campfire glow comes from a laptop,” he writes. “It’s a real-time window on life behind the lines – and suddenly the Pentagon is on the defensive.”
Like many large organizations in the public and private sectors, the Pentagon was too invested in its existing infrastructure and its own preconceived notions about combat to recognize that the digital divide would not include Iraq on one side and the U.S. on the other. To the contrary, digitalization eliminated the divide between battleground and home ground in a nanosecond. In truth, Abu Ghraib was all about digital cameras and computers as much as torture.
Like the recording industry, the war industry may damp down the fire of change for awhile, but it is not extinguished. In the end, the generals will have to run up the white flag and surrender to the inevitability and the ubiquity of digital communications wherever people are, even on the battlefield.
For a view of how developed the communications has become, check out these two videos:
Maybe if we just let our soldiers email their soldiers, we’d do a better job of avoiding these wars in the first place.