German Military Concerned About Soldier Blogs | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.08.2008
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German Military Concerned About Soldier Blogs

Weblogs have become very popular among soldiers, but military strategists worry that the Internet diaries won't just damage the troops' reputation. They're also concerned that they might threaten soldiers' lives.

German soldiers at an Internet cafe in their base in Kabul

Is Internet access endangering German soldiers abroad?

Psychologists recommend that people use diaries to get through rough spots in their lives. Psychologists at Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, are no different and tell soldiers to write down their experiences. They just shouldn't do it online.

That doesn't seem to prevent soldiers from doing so. The Web site alone currently has some 2,080 military blogs that are written by soldiers from 38 countries. US soldiers are by far the most prolific writers, but 42 German and five French soldiers have also registered their diaries on the site.

Source of information

The American dominance isn't surprising, since blogging is much more widespread in the US than in Europe. But military strategists in the Old World are eyeing the development with concern.

Achim Wohlgethan

Achim Wohlgethan has written about the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan

Next to regular war coverage by the media, military blogs in the US have turned into a secondary source of information. Soldiers sometimes reveal details that even officially "embedded" journalists are not allowed to report on.

As a result, US military officials announced last year that they would check texts, picture and videos that bloggers want to publish and would ban Web sites such as Youtube in military bases.

The US army did so just one day before well-known blogger Colby Buzzel received the Lulu Blooker Prize for his blog "My War: Killing Time in Iraq." The highly praised diary, which talks about death, destruction and a lot of boredom and has been translated into seven languages shows how hard it is to stop soldiers from sharing their stories.

A place to vent

Some soldiers post pictures online that show them posing with their weapons. Even the most innocent description of a view from a window can reveal military secrets, however. Some soldiers enthusiastically write about their experiences, others, like Buzzel, share their frustration and boredom.

"I'm just waiting for time to pass," writes one soldier, who is based in Afghanistan. "Slowly, I've had enough."

Another wonders what his reception at home will be like.

"How many of us will be ignored by friends and family because we've killed someone in cold blood on command?" he asks.

These are still exceptions in France. But the military leadership desperately wants to put an end to the blogs.

French soldiers with blogs are meant to be more careful in the future -- especially when it comes to revealing information about equipment and their place of deployment. The new French army chief, Elrick Irastorza, has issued a directive on this at the end of July. The directive says that the publication of sensitive information in blogs and Internet forums endangers military operations, the life of soldiers in active duty and the lives of their relatives at home.

Staying anonymous

In Germany, Bundeswehr officials said that it's hard and almost impossible to control bloggers. So far, Germany has no rules on blogging, but a German soldier is contractually bound to keep military secrets to himself, said Christian Dienst, a Bundeswehr spokesman.

But he also said that Bundeswehr leaders might consider further steps should the blogging trend continue. The least bloggers could do is not use their real names.

"Pseudonyms protect the bloggers and their relatives from terrorist attacks, for example," Dienst said.

Morale gauge

The main problem of military blogs is that they can only convey "subjective impressions of individual soldiers, which are multiplied when they're published on the Internet," Dienst added.

An embedded photographer in Iraq

Even embedded journalists sometimes don't reveal as much as soldiers

"A molehill quickly turns into a mountain and the content of blogs can quickly turn into a match-ball for domestic politics," Dienst said, referring to "Final Stop Kabul," a blog by former German soldier Achim Wohlgethan, who does not hold back his criticism of the Bundeswehr's state of equipment in Afghanistan.

"Bloggers only have their personal views and often distribute half-truths," Dienst said. A lack of knowledge about the larger political picture could lead to the inadvertent publication of sensitive information, which can play into the hands of terrorists, he added.

But the blogs are also an important source of information for Bundeswehr officials. They observe some of them quite closely to gauge troop morale.

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