Are we truly helping to solve issues or just kvetching?
One side effect of the so-called digital age on the military is that servicemembers have a new and unparalleled way to share information, ideas, and concerns through social media, blogs, and other websites. Where once an officer might risk his commission by writing a white paper with his name on it that was critical of strategy or leadership, that same officer can now stand behind a certain modicum of privacy with an internet pseudonym. I am no exception, although some people do tend to refer to me as too angry for a staff officer, at which point I refer them to Clausewitz’s largely unknown maxim, “An officer on staff is truly the most miserable of creatures and should be treated with delicate care, and extra amounts of lager.” Don’t look for where he said that, because I may or may not have just made that up.
Speaking of Clausewitz, he serves as a good example of a disgruntled soldier. As a member of the post-Frederick the Great Prussian Army, he was a lone voice of dissent in an organization that had grown too large, too full of itself, and too complacent. His concerns were found to be well-placed, when Napoleon bowled the supposedly indomitable Prussians right over in their first meeting. Clausewitz was able to make many of the necessary reforms that he had recommended in the Prussian Army during the inter-war period, thanks largely to superior officers who listened to his critiques and agreed with him.
Bringing us back into the modern age, there are a large number of servicemembers from each branch of the military and with diverse backgrounds who use social media and blogging as a way to voice similar concerns. After thirteen years of war, and what that necessarily entails, there is a lot of fodder out there. The massive rise of military blogs in the past few years shows us that servicemembers have a lot to say and intend to say it. But at what point are we all taking what used to be a private bitchfest in the dayroom with some beers and putting it out into the public, for all to see? Are we really making that change that we believe we are, or are we gradually convincing each other that the system that we work in is broken?
This has pros and cons. On the one hand, we’re opening up dialogue. There is nothing so important, in my belief, as the open discussion of our beliefs, doctrine, and leadership principles amongst peers. Now officers and enlisted alike can interact in a largely faceless domain, unfettered by restrictions of rank, geographic location, or fear of repercussion. This dialogue is helping more people to think about their situation, and lord knows, we need more people who think. It also gets people writing more, which has been a disappearing craft for some time. Face it, Army writing is not writing. I myself have been educated and edified through my blogging and social media interactions, by peers, subordinates, and superiors. When you have everyone from colonels to specialists weighing in on foreign policy, national strategy, and leadership, it makes for an unparalleled debate.
So what are the downsides? Well, like any public forum that allows for anonymity, there are people who suffer from the same communication problems online as they do in real life. You get blowhards, martinets, a-holes, and people who just want to complain with no real solution in mind. You also get the people who have valid issues, but don’t know how to present them. Which is what spawned this post.
Over on Foreign Policy, an Army lieutenant decided to voice what he saw were issues around him. And in some cases, they were definitely issues, such as leaders not being held accountable, a flat promotion and development system, and an over-reliance on PowerPoint. However, he regrettably opened in a way that was calculated to send his military readers over the edge: by listing his rank as 1LT (P) as in, promotable. For those not in the military, advancement from 1LT to captain is pretty much like falling off a log: if you stand there long enough, it will happen. His tone throughout the rest of the blog proceeded to elaborate on how his peers were failing and how they should look up to him. Again, I’m talking about his tone, not what he actually said.
This of course fostered a lively discussion among many people on Twitter about how could that LT be so dumb to put that online, especially with his name on it? It brought a swift rebuttal from one blogger which resulted in his own blogged response which you can read here. Further discussion brought in Foreign Policy writer Tom Ricks who asked why we were all so upset at this officer’s article? After all, he had brought up some good points and was “doing his part” so to speak in putting his own observations out there.
Which brings me full circle: are we bitching or are we heading towards a larger solution? This blog itself, Point of Decision, is aimed at giving servicemembers and veterans a voice with which to address defense-related issues. I think the line is drawn when we talk about constructive criticism, respectful debate, and keeping personal issues out of it. The Army itself has very strong opinions on the role of social media, and numerous cases over the past few years have seen officers and enlisted alike in hot water over their statements online. Keeping the conversation respectful, largely general, and staying away from any self-aggrandizing statements go a long way in getting people to listen to you. A dose of humor, sarcasm, and snark don’t hurt either.
In the end, military bloggers play an invaluable role in the larger debate of the role of the military in the world, the direction the military is headed, and the issues that we currently face. An open and free discussion encourages critical thinking and problem solving, as well as creates channels to share information. It makes us a healthier, less-insular force. So in the end, you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have…that this post is not the opinion of the Department of Defense, because if you want that, they’ve got about a gazillion regulations and manuals you can read. Happy writing, MilBloggers.