Academic journal article Military Review

Fostering a Culture of Engagement

Academic journal article Military Review

Fostering a Culture of Engagement

Article excerpt

WITH LESS THAN one half of one percent of the U.S. population in the Armed Forces, it is not surprising that many Americans know little about their military or the sacrifices military members and their families make for the Nation. The professional military is often viewed as a breed apart, a closed hierarchal organization resembling a monastic order.1 Indeed, some scholars have identified not just a cloister wall, but a growing chasm between the military and American society as a whole.2 Meanwhile, the necessity for operations security and an institutional penchant for controlling information flow do little to bridge gaps or break down walls. Recent incidents ranging from the Jessica Lynch saga to the Abu Ghraib scandal indicate just how vulnerable that flow is to miscalculation and mismanagement. Whatever the reason or rationale, impairments to information dissemination can easily damage the Army's reputation and estrange the American public from one of its most trusted institutions.3 Since neither of these developments bodes well for the future of the U.S. Army, "job one" in the communications arena should be to keep Americans informed and connected with their Armed Forces. For this and other reasons, the Army must embrace a "culture of engagement" that actively seeks to tear down barriers and build sustainable relationships with the American public.

The Evolution of Media-Military Relations

The U.S. military and the primary instrument for engagement, the media, have been joined at the hip in an up-and-down relationship that dates at least to the first half of the 19th century. Since that time, the military-media relationship has moved through four distinct periods: censorship, openness, controlled access, and cooperation. As we peer into a less than a certain future, the changing contemporary mediascape and its significance in an era of "persistent conflict" demand that the military embrace a fifth period: "engagement."4

The first modern media coverage of an American conflict occurred during the Mexican War (1846-1848). The advent of a new technology - the telegraph - made communication near instantaneous and according to at least one scholar, enabled reporters to scoop the president.5 Little more than a decade later, during the Civil War, widespread complaints over violation of what we now call operational security surfaced. Consequently, War Secretary Edwin Stanton, "seized newspapers that were too liberal with military information, while manipulating others into publishing false reports."6 The conflict also saw various forms of military censorship, a mainstay for dealing with the media that would persist for the next century.

During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy censored cable communiqués in an effort to maintain operational security.7 Restrictions became more draconian during World War I. The Espionage Act, adopted in 1917, "prohibited the publication of any information that could even remotely be considered to aid the enemy."8 A year later, the Sedition Act made criticism of the war itself illegal. These two acts ushered in an era of prior restraint that imposed broad limits on how journalists could report during times of war. Two legal cases, Schenk v. U.S. and Near v. Minnesota, "recognized national security interests as justification for prior restraint."9

Media docility probably hit its zenith during World War II. Journalists voluntarily accepted censorship and accreditation rules in return for access to the battlefield. The price for access was high - sanitized reporting meant little or no bad news, so items about setbacks such as the failed raid on Dieppe rarely made the headlines. As Philip Knightly has pointed out, "A Reuters correspondent admitted that journalists were simply propagandists for their government, mere cheerleaders: 'It wasn't good journalism,' he [the correspondent] said. 'It wasn't journalism at all.'"10

The forced harmony rooted in media docility began to break down during the Korean War, and then simply evaporated during the Vietnam War. …

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