Archive for the ‘middle east’ Tag

The Sandbox

Vitals

The SandboxURL: http://gocomics.typepad.com/the_sandbox/

Affiliations: Part of Slate.com
Launched: November 2006
Author(s): Various, edited by David Stanford
Google Links: 1,000
Technorati Rating: 130 / 48,362th most popular blog
Run On: TypePad.com

For members of the combined armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the surrounding operating theater, the War on Terror unleashes incredibly strong emotions. When $10 AT&T phone cards home don’t cut it, some soldiers take to their laptops and blog about their experiences online. Anger, wonder, grief, terror, and frustration, and sometimes joy, all find their ways into these military blogs or “milblogs.” When the War on Terror started in late 2001, it would herald the first time where soldiers used blogs on a large scale to write home about life on the front.

Often, the urge for soldiers who want to write these blogs is to simply unload. Often, soldiers, especially Americans, don’t have a strong support network when they go home, where they can talk about their experiences in a group or to a counselor, so they may choose to reach out and connect with other soldiers and their experiences through blogging. The decentralized nature of blogs makes it difficult to compare experiences, which is why Milblogging.com was created to unite these blogs.

One blog that deserves particular notice is The Sandbox, a blog on Slate.com, a publication known to grapple with the difficult questions that more mainstream publications ignore. The Sandbox is a “a clean, lightly-edited debriefing environment where all correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted.” Here, soldiers can submit their tales to David Stanford, who has worked as Duty Officer for Doonesbury Town Hall for 12 years. He is a highly decorated editor, working in both fiction and nonfiction, and on The Sandbox, he lightly edits soldiers’ entries for clarity. He is less an editor on who decides what is published that aligns with a publication’s political leanings, and more of a facilitator for the continuing discussion of the effects the war has on soldiers, their families, and the locals.

Each post from the front lists a name, the posting date, duty station, hometown, and milblog URL if they have their own. Often, the names aren’t full legal names. Some soldiers portray the situation in Afghanistan or Iraq in a bad light that may have repercussions on their jobs if a superior officer learns about their attitudes. In the American armed forces, as well as other armed forces, a façade of unity and purpose has to be maintained, and some senior military planners fear that milblogs, which depict a boots-on-ground perspective on the war, will crack that façade many governments who are attempting to justify their involvement in the war as noble and good.

However, it’s not surprising that in 2006, the Pentagon has ruled that all blogs must be first checked out by a senior officer before the soldier can blog on it, to ensure that no sensitive information, such as troop movements, may end up on the internet for insurgents to use against troops. There’s a lot more at stake than a soldier’s right to freedom of speech, and that concern relating to security can’t be ignored.

However, the more suspicious among the blogging community may believe that this is a thin lie to cover the Pentagon’s need to shut down any dissent they find within their own ranks. Ironically, the large majority of milblogs are usually written to counteract negative media stories of soldiers, but most stay away from politics, in deference to the idea that the military is an apolitical organization administered by civilians. For an example of how one Australian service member had to contend with his own superiors forcing him to disable his blog, and the implications it had for the blog’s fans and for potential spammers, can be found here.

The Sandbox offers a glimpse into the lives of dozens of soldiers that chose to serve their country, and how they adapt, allowing those on the home front to better understand the pressures that their loved ones have on the front lines of the War in Terror.

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