Internet Censorship and the US Military

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17 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    It is ironic that we are denying democratic discourse to our troops who are busy attempting to spread democracy in the Middle East.

    This is really funny. An author (of a book about the Special Forces and meditation, I think) observed that one of the great ironies he noticed while living on an Army base during the Cold War: The Army is a little socialist establishment meant to, in large part, combat certain forms of socialism.

    Of course, there’s a huge difference between U.S. soldiers and Chinese citizens. First, soldiers (except for the stop-loss folks) serve voluntarily. Second, they won’t go to prison or face execution for accessing censored material. So I’m not too alarmed if soldiers are denied access to certain material.

    After all, once they leave the military, they can go to college (on the GI Bill, no less!) and discuss topics from whatever viewpoints they desire. Oh, wait, they won’t be able to!

    These poor soldiers will go from having liberal viewpoints censored while in the Army to haveing conservative viewpoints censored while they’re in college. Now that’s really funny.

  2. snowball says:

    These poor soldiers will go from having liberal viewpoints censored while in the Army to haveing conservative viewpoints censored while they’re in college. Now that’s really funny.

    Yeah, Mike. Real funny, because everyone knows that lots of colleges block internet access to Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy. Seriously. I think I read about it on Powerline or something.

  3. Dylan says:

    This seems defensible on morale grounds. The military is under no obligation to permit enemy progaganda to be distributed to the troops. It’s not obvious why this should change with respect to domestic enemies of the war. Why on earth should an employer permit its employees to read screeds telling them their jobs are pointless or actively harmful? Especially while their serving in a warzone and effectively on the job 100% of the time.

    Labeling the reason for blocks as “politics” is, of course, misleading, given that they are only blocking a particular viewpoint. It would be nice if they came clean about what’s going on here, but the substance isn’t really all that objectionable under these circumstances.

    I’m frankly shocked that anyone would complain about limited access to third party email that might be hard for the military to monitor for technical or legal reasons. There are security issues, you know. To really freak you out, it’s my understanding that at some military schools, not just secure operational units, the terminals have keystroke logs. Not only will your instructors know what sites you’ve visited, they’ll be able to use your password to see exactly what you were doing or viewing.

    Save it for home.

  4. Dylan — Soldiers are still American citizens who vote. I believe that they are mature enough to be exposed to all sorts of viewpoints — including anti-war viewpoints — and still do their jobs effectively. And it is not the case that viewpoints expressed are “enemy” viewpoints. They are political viewpoints that are critical of Bush and his policies.

  5. Dylan says:

    Doing one’s job effectively in this instance means accepting the risk of death and believing that those who expose you to that risk are doing so only for reasons that coincide with the reasons you joined and accepted this deal. If you believe this war doesn’t enhance U.S. security (a reasonable belief to hold), then you won’t put your ass on the line as much as you might otherwise, thereby endangering the mission’s (perhaps slim) chance of success as well as your fellow soldiers. It’s more efficient to eliminate motivation for shirking than to identify and punish it after the fact.

  6. Dylan says:

    Let’s also be clear about what’s being blocked: fast, thoughtless, and often inflammatory rhetoric, not news. I assume the NYT is available online, and soldiers can receive Time or Newsweek in the mail. They are hardly deprived of serious commentary on and well considered opposition to the war. They just don’t get some guest on Al Franken telling hyperbolic third hand anecdotal tales of the horrors of Abu Ghraib – just the real ones that filter through a more reliable process.

    Frankly, I think the rather puzzling inclusion of Wonkette is the only thing that makes this much of an issue.

  7. T says:

    Dylan,

    “Doing one’s job effectively in this instance means accepting the risk of death and believing that those who expose you to that risk are doing so only for reasons that coincide with the reasons you joined and accepted this deal”

    and

    “Let’s also be clear about what’s being blocked: fast, thoughtless, and often inflammatory rhetoric, not news…They are hardly deprived of serious commentary on and well considered opposition to the war.”

    point in different directions. The more serious the commentary, the better case it will make that the purported reasons for going to war are inapt. The case you make seems to underwrite blocking access to the more persuasive the commentary. I.e., blocking NYT and letting in “fast, thoughtless, and often inflammatory rhetoric, not news.” Unless you think that soldiers are incapable of distinguishing good and bad arguments.

  8. Antiquated Tory says:

    If the ‘inflammatory’ nature of such sites as Al Franken causes them to be banned for the sake of morale and military discipline, what about the nature of sites such as Limbaugh, O’Reilly or Liddy, who have been known to step into ‘kill all the ragheads’ territory? Surely incitement to racial hatred and violence against all Moslems is as much a problem for the maintenance of discipline as is a questioning of the rationales behind the war?

    Dylan, I think you are giving far too much credit for whoever came up with this policy. I think it’s clearly someone abusing his rank to enforce his political prejudices.

    Oh, an interesting discussion on the subject at an Army Intel reservist’s blog. According to some of the commenters, this list of what is and isn’t banned pops up elsewhere, like at Honeywell (defense contractor). One suggestion is that there is a positive discrimination in favor of right-wing sites rather than a negative one against anti-war: the suggestion is that the default setting on the screening software originally blocked all Politics/Opinion sites, but that various persons used rank to get their own favorite sites allowed, and as these persons would be high-ranking officers and/or DOD guys, their favorite sites are a heck of a lot more likely to include O’Reilly than Wonkette.

  9. Dylan says:

    T: I don’t think that’s right. The person who is convinced by rational, reasoned argument will respond in a rational and reasoned way. The kind of person who’s pissed because his sergeant made him dig a latrine trench (if they still do that) and then has an epiphany when reading a Michael Mooreish rant is more likely to decide it’s a good idea to seriously fuck up or, in the extreme, frag an officer. I do find the idea that Hitler was a less persuasive pro-fascist voice than, say, Lindberg interesting, however. Interesting, but not persuasive. Writing a newspaper editorial in 50′s Alabama about why it’s a good idea to burn black churches is considerably less worrisome than the screamer in the town square on Friday night when the boys are all liquored up and looking for trouble.

    Antiquated: “Kill all ragheads” would, in slightly different circumstances, be official U.S. Army/Marine policy and indoctrinated in boot camp as a way to desensitize recruits to the task of killing the predominant enemy of the day. For the average enlisted man who has no meaningful interaction with the Iraqi population and couldn’t talk to them if he did, “kill all ragheads, but only when ordered to or your rules of engagement dictate” is probably still the best policy.

    The opposing message, on the other hand, is “we support our troops when they shoot our officer.” It’s quite easy to believe all of these banned sites might have linked in a noncondemnatory way to a protest with that on a banner or tshirt, and there’s no way that particular message or its brethren is going to increase military efficacy!

    I agree that it’s more likely that this is just someone blocking this stuff because he can. But since the Bush administration excels at post hoc justifications of actions begun for less noble reasons, I thought I’d explain why this might not be an inherently terrible or misguided act, even though the latter, at least, isn’t unthinkable.

  10. T says:

    Dylan,

    Now I’m confused as to your argument. Your first pose said:

    “Doing one’s job effectively in this instance means accepting the risk of death and believing that those who expose you to that risk are doing so only for reasons that coincide with the reasons you joined and accepted this deal.”

    But now you are saying

    “The person who is convinced by rational, reasoned argument will respond in a rational and reasoned way. The kind of person who’s pissed because his sergeant made him dig a latrine trench (if they still do that) and then has an epiphany when reading a Michael Mooreish rant is more likely to decide it’s a good idea to seriously fuck up or, in the extreme, frag an officer.”

    The first argument is about undermining effective fighting by undermining that the reasons a person is sent to fight match up with the reasons that a person believes he is fighting. The second is about inciting violence. The two rationales point in entirely different directions about what ought to be banned. If you embrace BOTH rationales, then it seems you should embrace banning both sophisticated and inflammatory sites.

  11. Dr. Nazli says:

    All the arguments appear valid – but the fact remains that “democracy is democracy”, “censorship is censorship”. The content & intellect of the censored item is not the issue – but the fundamental of censorship itself.

    Likewise with democracy – it seems to be the fashion, until an “unwanted” party wins

    We can all argue our own perspectives on the content – but intellect cannot overcome the basic – which is “censorship is censorship” Intrinsically the content cannot be the benchmark for censorship – because by that argument China wins

    “Standards are Standards – double standards are no standards”

    Glad you posted the article, Dan. The list of “blocked” and “ok” sites paintd a picture.

    Dr. Nazli

  12. Chris says:

    I dont find this troubling in the least. First, I dont think soldiers are under any illusions that all their communications can be read or intercepted for possible security threats. Second, the military “firewall” was porous enough let this email through to Wonkette. Third, for a theater of war access to internet is a luxurious accomodation compared to what soldiers have had to endure in the past. Finally, while it may seem silly to block some sites of trivial importance, maybe even counter-productive, I wouldn’t label this “censorship” — if the army can fine someone for damage to gov’t property for being sunburned (which has happened), this seems like an included lesser power. They joined an army after all, not a debate club.

  13. Antiquated Tory says:

    Dylan,

    I hate going all armchair general here, since I am strictly a civilian and a dilettante in these matters, but I do not believe that desensitizing recruits to killing nationality/race X is a terribly good idea in counterinsurgency warfare. That’s not to say that we don’t do it, only that it may be downright counterproductive. See experience of 3rd Armored Cavalry in Tall Afar for details.

    I am very curious whether John Cole is blocked, or any/all of the Iraqi blockers. Riverbend used to get quite a few US mil commenters, who were quite restrained given her usual rather, er, strongly felt opinions of the US in her country.

    Has anyone, anywhere, incidently, seen anything like the hypothetical shirt Dylan describes? I would think you’d have to go a bit farther out on the fringe than Al Franken, but I may be mistaken. Again, it is perfectly possible that someone imagines that ‘these banned sites might have linked in a noncondemnatory way to a protest with that on a banner or tshirt.’

    It’s also possible that morale is now bad enough in at least some units that the brass is getting desperate.

  14. Dylan says:

    Antiquated:

    The shirt is hypothetical; the banner is not. The sentiment expressed in precisely those words has shown up at one war protest before. I’ve seen it at least twice, separated by months, but it may have been the same banner shown in separate photos on seperate sites months apart.

    More recently, Ward Churchill was being lambasted for promoting this idea in analogous words, although I suspect that as with much else, the “crime” was committed some time before the uproar.

    T:

    I express no opinion on whether both types of sites should be banned. Either: 1) I’m feeling my way and coming up with plausible defenses as I go, or 2) both arguments may apply to what actually has been banned. Take your pick.

  15. Mike says:

    Snowball: I’d never heard of Powerline until you mentioned it. I’m sorry you waste your time on sites like that. I hope the Army prevents soldiers from wasting their time on such trash.

    Anyhow, there is censorship, and although it’s certainly one of degree, it’s of the same kind. A funny story: My friend left college early to take a killer job. He needed one college class to graduate (poly sci), so he took it only a few years after graduating. His first papers argued positions from a conservative standpoint. They received low grades. His later papers took positions from a liberal perspective: they earned almost perfect scores.

    Now, it could be that his writing or insight magically improved with his later papers. Or it could be that when someone reads a conservative stance on something, the grader consciously or subconsciously thinks it’s stupid and therefore worthy of disapprobation. (To avoid any confusion: Giving lower grades based on whether some paper takes a liberl or conservative position is a form of censorship, since it prevents the student from sharing his ideas with classmates.)

    There’s a bias, even if you’ve been outside of college or law school too long to remember it.

  16. jw says:

    Censorship like this could certainly explain the most astounding result in Zogby’s recent poll of the troops: that 85% said our main mission in Iraq is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks.”

  17. Surly Curmudgeon says:

    This does not surprise me at all. The attitude of mid-level brass about the GI’s freedom of thought has not changed much since my army days in the 1960s. AFN still censors its programs; Rush and Dr. Laura are fit for broadcast but Ed Schultz is not. Censorship happens in today’s military, while we extoll the virtue of democracy to the Iraqis. Rumsfeld could do something about it if he wanted to, but he is a dictatorial son of a bitch.