Flash-to-Bang: Nonsense on the internet, hearing it from soldiers

Smoke Grenade

Just about everyone I meet in the Army has a Facebook account now. It is more odd to not have one than to have one. Whenever I am up, standing in front of soldiers, I automatically assume I’m being Snapchatted. Social media is out there and exists. There’s no putting it away.

There are loads of military themed sites that vie for the attention of service members and veterans. Years ago, it was soldier blogs that made waves, giving others a peer inside the world of the military. Those have mostly died off, replaced instead with aggregate sites that allow many more voices to be broadcast to a much wider audience. These are sites like Task & Purpose, We Are The Mighty, The Rhino Den, Havok Journal, SOFREP, etc.

Then there are the strictly social media landing spots – Power Point Ranger, U.S. Army W.T.F. Moments, Gruntworks, Doctrine Man, etc. The list goes on and the low barrier to entry – an internet connection and an idea – allow these sites to rapidly proliferate and compete for the attention of its audience.

While aggregate sites allow for the display and dissemination of partially to fully formed ideas, the social media sites are pure candy. They post clickable, shareable, rage-baiting images and ideas designed to trigger an emotional response. Some of it is hilarious. A lot of it is nonsense.

Last week, before the media event and graduation at Ranger School, I heard soldiers speaking with confidence to one another that the outcome was pre-determined because of the Havok Journal article that claimed the President was going to be at the graduation, so ipso facto, the women got a free pass. In the circles I heard the claim, no one made a correction. No one said it was nonsense. It was read on the internet, disseminated, and settled.

A couple of months ago, when this article about the demise of Army leadership began making the rounds again, I was approached by a good soldier asking me why he should stay in the Army, because that article resonated with him.

Back in Afghanistan, I watched junior soldiers grow enraged over the ARCOM awarded to MSG Moerk because they saw a thousand memes on it. I could never imagine why a junior soldier – or any soldier – would be so interested (and outraged) at an award a senior NCO gets at a post, far, far away.

I’m not sure I’m shedding any new light on this. I’m sure in institutions all over the world social media is having a similar effect. I certainly see it in politics. It’s just something I’ve noticed a lot more in the military recently.

There is still this assumption that what happens online, stays online. That is an outdated understanding of the internet. What happens on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, interplays with conversations in morning formations. That funny picture I clicked ‘like’ on before PT becomes the actual thing someone references during the run. Only, out in the wild, removed from its original context of a funny thing on a goofy military site, it might not be so funny.

Related: The Military Meme Machine. I’m not a fan.

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7 Underrated Military Blogs That Can’t Get No Respect

Rodney+Dangerfield

I tell you, I can’t get no respect!

I’ve been writing this blog since 2011, and I like to think I write some pretty good stuff. True, it’s not all gold, but generally speaking, I post frequently on topics that are of interest to the milblog community.

Yet whenever a list of the ‘top military blogs’ comes along, Carrying the Gun is never on it.

An article with the headline ‘7 Military Blogs You Need To Check Out‘ has been making the rounds over the past couple of days. Carrying the Gun isn’t on the list – no surprise there.

I think I know why I got the snub:

Here are 7 of the best military blogs out there right now if you’re looking for professional, well-written content. What I like about these site is that they’re either created/hosted by an active duty service member, or they’re a repository of active duty writing. So, you know you’re getting relevant content.

I’ve written some pretty professional stuff on this blog – stuff that’s been picked up by national and international news outlets. But, I also, quite often, write about nonsense, like the matriarchal town of Troia in Final Fantasy IV and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, on war. I suppose that if I just wrote about military stuff, maybe I’d get on one of these lists.

And while the death knell for milblogs has been rung prematurely before, I am a little frustrated by the fact that the blogs that usually make these lists are either conglomerate sites that pool articles from a bunch of sources or sites that serve as a traffic driver for something else. Milblogs that speak “ground truth” are becoming less and less common. Yes, lots of folks have moved on to Twitter or to mainstream publishing to tell their stories (I’m looking at you, @inthedeserts, @AlexHortonTX). I like to believe there is still a place for more junior folks to lay out their own canvas and say what it is they have to say, without simply trying to drive traffic or go through a round of professional editing to get posted.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to make my own list of milblogs that I enjoy reading. When a new post from one of these blogs appears, I’ll automatically save it for later because I know I’ll enjoy it. These are milblogs that often get no respect, but are both entertaining and informative. This is the “Wack Pack” of milblogs, if you will. Admittedly, a lot of these blogs don’t update as often as they should, probably because they’re tired of getting the ‘ol mainstream milblog snub. Check them out, they need your love.

1. WAR IS SCHLEP – A milblog told mostly through comics (think Terminal Lance, but for junior Army officers). The story of a young Infantry Lieutenant, from his days at ROTC, studying abroad in the Middle East, to Infantry training and beyond. Hilariously captures some of the absurdities of military life. HASN’T POSTED FOR A YEAR!

2. Grand Blog Tarkin – Security issues told through a fantasy/sci-fi perspective. A conglomerate site that allows writers – many who are active-duty service members and veterans – to get creative. Example article title: Eating Soup with a 900′ Powerglove: Mass Effect, Mechanical Armies, and the Reaper as Counterinsurgent Fever Dream

3. On Violence – Run by two brothers (Michael and Eric), one a former Army officer, one an anti-war activist (I realize activist might be the wrong word, Eric). They write brilliant and easily digestible articles on, well, violence, and everything that word touches. One of the most reasonable, sane milblogs you’ll find.

4. Fear and Loathing in the Infantry – Ground truth from a junior infantry officer. Does not post nearly as much as he should, but fortunately makes up for it through his Twitter account (@intheinfantry)

5. Kings of War – Kings of War is a blog run out of the War Studies Department at King’s College, London. I learned of it when I went to the peacenik school down the street from them. They go through spurts where their stuff is fantastic (this is one of my favorite KoW articles ever – Killing them Softly: Warriors Lost in a Twilight of Sentimentality and Nostalgia), and they are intermittently prolific, sometimes offering up multiple articles a week before going dark for a month or two.

6. The Best Defense – True, The Best Defense is well known in milblog circles, but the typical 3 posts a day that show up right next to each other in my feedly almost always gets saved for later. Tom Ricks finds interesting things going on in the security universe and almost always has an interesting comment, headline, and picture to go along with it. Usually very short articles, sometimes just a sentence or two. Always enjoyable.

7. Carrying the Gun – The most underrated blog in the milblogosphere. War, the Middle East, and video games are the usual topics, but the author has been known to dabble in nonsense. A must read for everyone on the internet.

Bonus Blog! True Boots – A “boots on the ground” perspective from a prolific and thoughtful veteran. You won’t always agree with her, but she will usually have a better argument than you.

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