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Web 2.0 Tools Redesigning 21st Century Battlefield

A new video documentary project called “In Their Boots” hit the web recently, highlighting stories of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – and their families. NPR reported that these live, weekly webcasts called “real stories,” which are followed by an interactive online discussion, aim to raise awareness and understanding about the dramatic impact of war. The “issues and analysis” segment of its webcasts offer solutions to soldiers, veterans, and their families on concerns such as “accessing veterans’ benefits, living with Post-Traumatic Stress, and grappling with the economic challenges of reintegrating into civilian society.”

The host of the program and a veteran of the war in Iraq, Jan Bender, said that the purpose of the webcast was to show “the reality of a country being at war, and sometimes a reality that isn’t on the surface.” Such online programs not only create a forum for soldiers and their families to express, as Bender says, a “full spectrum of emotion,” but they also capture the realities of life in combat zones which have become too dangerous for journalists to explore. Often brutally honest depictions of the dramatic impacts of war, webcasts such as In Their Boots and military blogs, called “milblogs,” have presented a new, interesting challenge to officials seeking to control the message regarding US military policy, including the difficulty of separating personal opinion from official policy on the Web.

As military blogs have become increasingly popular over the last few years – especially since snapshots of Iraqi prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib were exposed online, and candid blog posts have been published by soldiers such as Colby Buzzell (also known as the “Blogfather” of military blogs and the author of “My War: Killing Time in Iraq”) – officials have become extra cautious of the content posted online by servicemen and women. Since then, the army released specific blogging guidelines and has shut down soldiers’ blogs, while the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) began “blocking access ‘worldwide’ to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other popular Web sites on its computers and networks.” Although top military officials such as Lt. Gen Caldwell implored the armed services to let troops blog and post to YouTube earlier this year, soldiers continue to practice self-censorship.

As the military continues to keep a watchful eye on milblogs, it reveals its desire to use web 2.0 in a top down, chain of command fashion; which is ineffective in the networked sphere where these tools are best utilized in peer-to-peer formats for learning and communicating among officers of a similar rank as well as between soldiers and citizens. Ultimately, Web 2.0 tools have significantly redesigned the 21st century battlefield, presenting new challenges to the military not only regarding its transparency, but its hierarchical structure.

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