I just finished William Langewiesche’s amazing ‘Rules of Engagement’ piece in Vanity Fair. He uses the Haditha massacre as a window onto “the observable realities of an expanding guerrilla war—about mistakes that have been made and, regrettably, about the inability to fix what is wrong.” Most moving are his portrayals of the Marines in Kilo Company:
You cannot see much out of an armored Humvee, and even if you could, you have no chance of identify the enemy until first you come under attack. You’ve got all these weapons, and you’ve been told that you’re a mighty warrior, a Spartan, but what are you going to shoot—the dogs? You’re a Marine without a beach…Reduced to giving candy to children, and cut off by language and ignorance from the culture around them, they work in such isolation that the potentially positive effects of their presence usually amount to nil…Many had joined the Corps in response to the September 11 attacks, now four years past, but the emotions that once had motivated them had been reduced by their participation in an enormously bureaucratic enterprise, and by the tedium of war. Fine—they were probably better soldiers for it. These were not the taut warriors portrayed in action movies. As they shed their helmets and body armor, they emerged as ordinary five-foot-nine-inch, 150-pound middle-class Americans, sometimes pimple-faced, and often sort of scrawny. Some of them were mentally agile, and some quite obviously were not.
The story led me to ponder the state of the solider as citizen journalist. A recent post by BlackFive refers to “the Army’s new unit watching for OPSEC (Operational Security) violations on soldiers’ blogs and web sites” and conludes:
Warning bloggers of possible violations is a good thing. But mindlessly cracking down on them without considering the consequences to the positive information flow will only create a cadre of negative military bloggers flying under the radar that will become the anti-military poster children for the New York Times and CNN.
Langewiesche addresses the power of citizensmedia when he writes about the US military’s attempt to contain the street distribution of a (by his account chilling) video of Haditha’s aftermath:
The Marine Corps was wrong to dismiss the video as propaganda and fiction. It is an authentic Iraqi artifact. It should be shown to the grunts in training. It should be shown to the generals in command. The scenes it depicts are raw.
Who, besides the Pentagon, is considering the role of the soldier-journalist? What can be learned from the media of the insurgents?