The Curious Absence of the British Military Blogger

You don’t get people to think about their profession simply by ordering them to; you get them to think about their profession by engaging with them in thinking about it.

Military blogging is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment. Across the Atlantic sites such as the The BridgeWar Council and War on the Rocks are going strong with an established reader base and a growing portfolio of military writers. Debate is lively and participants cover a broad spectrum; from military professionals, policy wonks and academics through to interested individuals with something to say.

Here in the UK we have some high quality blogs covering the defence and security spectrum (Ballots and Bullets, Defence in Depth, Kings of War  and Think Defence), but what we lack are British Military Bloggers commenting in a professional albeit personal capacity.

The Thin Pinstriped Line filled this niche admirably until last year, and new kids on the block Fall When Hit have hit the ground running, but the absence is noticeable and troubling.

It is troubling for a number of reasons:

  •  If the British Military aspires to maintain an agile edge through its people, then open professional engagement is essential to this. A military does not develop a thinking edge by remaining inside its box.
  • Engaging professionals in thinking about their profession needs to start early and continue throughout their career. At the moment there simply is not any medium for open debate on professional matters either within the Army, across the Joint arena or across the Regular-Reserve spectrum. Social media allows such access.
  • The only forums for professional military dialogue that I am aware of currently are the single service (professional) journals (Naval Review, British Army Review, Air Power Review ). To my mind blogging engages the mind and crystallises the thoughts, writing for a journal expresses the thesis. The medium should be appropriate to the subject.
  • Engaging on social media will allow the British Military to capitalise on the wider expertise available; the Forces do not have a monopoly on military thought. Debate is measured by the quality of thought, not the identity of the input and the Forces need to tap deeper into the experience and expertise available outside their own community.
  • If the British Military feels at risk of being isolated from the society it serves, then not engaging widely will not help. Engagement is more than informing about what we do, it encompasses debating the how and why of the things that we do. It is an interactive educational experience and social media is now the mainstream for this. The military might complain about a lack of understanding of what we do, of the limits and benefits of the appropriate use of military capability, but incomprehensible jargon and professional self-isolation do not help us keep build understanding.
  • Defence Engagement and Defence Diplomacy are now happening daily online. The #CCLKOW weekly debate on Twitter is a good example of this, contributions to War Council and Small Wars Journal are others. A British contribution is valued but largely absent.

So why is there very little open professional engagement?

Mostly it is a matter of culture, of attitudes towards open media and attitudes towards professional debate. There remains a distinct distrust by the chain of command of the media in general and social media in particular. This distrust is based on many things, but like all government bureaucracies a desire to control the narrative and not be politically embarrassed looms large.

Ministry of Defence online engagement guidelines are clear that Service personnel do not need clearance when talking online about ‘factual, unclassified, uncontroversial non-operational matters”. These guidelines are sufficiently broad that anything of contemporary interest (recent campaigns, Army 2020, use of Reserves, women in combat) could be construed as falling foul of the guidelines, and this likely acts as a brake on military personnel engaging. “Better safe than sorry” is the easy path to take in looking after one’s career, but the military is a career that relies upon its members to be able to distinguish between actual and perceived risk.

The bigger brake by far however, certainly in the British Army, is that of the intellectual culture.

The vestiges of an “accomplished amateur” ethos expected in officers still acts as a gentle brake on demonstrating a keen professional interest, and the Army (less so the other Services) remains largely an organisation of Doers and not Thinkers. This is in itself not inherently a bad thing, so long as the Thinkers can think out loud! As the Services are small and unlikely to get bigger maintaining critical mass for debate is going to become essential.

The odds are stacked, but not insurmountable.

The fact is that as any Defence Academy academic or senior officer who visits there will testify, debate is alive and well, albeit highly localised. While the Ministry of Defence guidelines may seem onerous, they are in practice sufficiently broad to enable informed professional debate; the intent of the guidelines is not to stifle debate, but to protect operational security and prevent the military from falling into disrepute. Grounded Curiosity recently gave some excellent advice to military bloggers and her advice tallies neatly with the MOD guidelines: keep it professional, debate is allowed dissent is not; maintain OPSEC.

My personal experience is that there is a keen but understated culture of professional interest in certainly the British Army, but that this is not yet reflected in a culture of debate.

So in starting to blog here I simply hope to encourage all those engaged with defence to Think Defence and engage in the debate.

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mike
mike
January 17, 2015 5:55 pm

Perhaps the absence is due to a desire not to get into trouble (putting it in its very simplest forms) – not just from revealing the nasty truths, or the possibility of the media to latch onto comments and blow things out of proportion, but also due to other blogs run by “fans” and ex-servicemen (this is particularly visible in the dark blue area) which have produced a certain level of damage to their in-service colleagues.

Such blogs, and the subsequent toxicity of other readers/comments can deter people, I understand Sir H got a fair bit of flak occasionally, TD too, obviously easily shrugged off… but why would someone in the forces/civil service/related services, with little free time, and an eye on their career, would want to put up with that for a duration?

Not to mention time and work demands, running a blog, finding time to research for posts that would qualify for a professional style blog.

John
John
January 17, 2015 7:27 pm

Mike makes a good point. Some the RN stuff has caused real embarrassment to serving RN personnel and damaged their cause. There can be a very vindictive tone to some their stuff and being drawn into that can be a worry.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
January 17, 2015 7:46 pm

TBH the RN stuff is all written with an agenda but I see know reason why open debate could not be encouraged within the rules. It may be good for some members of the forces to get their ideas/views out in the open to be challenged or learn from other industries especially as it is hardly done on a day to day basis within the forces themselves. The author is right IMO in that the intellectual culture of the army is a brake to innovation and is one of the reasons for our performance in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Richard
Richard
January 17, 2015 9:58 pm

There is a bloggish site called ARRSE, to which you don’t refer. I have to say that I rarely read it. RUSI Journal, perhaps serves?

Obsvr
Obsvr
January 18, 2015 3:13 am

To access RUSIJ, you have to be a member. Hence it’s not widely available.

ARRSE does sometimes raise interesting matters, for example a recent thread on MoD media policy. However, it is not a site for those of a sensitive disposition, decorum is an unknown concept and it goes without saying that RN and RAF are not held in high regard, there’s also a KGB poster who sometimes stirs things up a bit. BAR is also held in fairly low esteem by ARRSE users.

There are of course various arm specific journals that discuss a variety of special to arm matters. Formation and special to arm study days are also a longstanding practice.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 18, 2015 8:05 am

KGB posters are everywhere. Resticting information flow at home and spreading misinformation abroad is a state policy.

Those who invaded this site achieved their purpose: new headings have not touched Ukraine even tangentially since.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
January 18, 2015 9:11 am

“If the British Military feels at risk of being isolated from the society it serves, then not engaging widely will not help. Engagement is more than informing about what we do, it encompasses debating the how and why of the things that we do.”

The most important of all. Within the next ten years the british armed forces face the greatest threat to their role… from the British public. Budgets are sliding to the point where sovereign and strategic power projection will be out of our grasp, and the British public need to understand why that matters once again.

That is one reason why this ‘fan’ started blogging in the run up to GE10, because I recognized a potential car crash further down the road.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 18, 2015 10:42 am

So se started for the same motivation then.

Also the colossal waste of money implied by some of the proposals in the SDSR process that followed.

Nick
Nick
January 18, 2015 10:46 am

Was there that much FSB comment on here ? Can’t say I noticed much when I was reading the Ukraine threads. Certainly nothing like you get in Newspapers comment threads.

There is actually pretty little English coverage of what going on in Ukraine at all (and I don’t just mean the fighting in the East). Actually, this is a broader reflection of UK news coverage on matters European in general. Woeful.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
January 18, 2015 10:54 am

it seems so.

Nick
Nick
January 18, 2015 11:04 am

@ jedibeeftrix

Isn’t that your starting point then as a professional/ex-professional posting here ? I mean to explain the foreign affairs/defence assumptions underlying UK policy to the Public (or at least to those of us who are “interested parties”.

Whilst what you describe is a “threat” to the current forces structure (and the governments view of itself), you’re making the assumption that for the post-empire generation, that the British public actually wants the UK to continue striding around the world stage like we used to. It just might be that as a whole, the UK public don’t actually want that at all anymore.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 18, 2015 11:08 am

Nick, obviously our reading differed. I am on several defence/ policy websites across Europe and the patterin emerging was clear (to me).

I agree with allthe rest that you say.

Personally I don’t care where the disputed provinces (8 mio people in all makes it like Sweden) end up, preferably not another rust belt to be shored up by money from the N.E. quadrant of Europe. Just what followed from Anshluss should be remembered when assessing policy options and implications.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
January 18, 2015 11:14 am

@ Nick – “Isn’t that your starting point then as a professional/ex-professional posting here ? I mean to explain the foreign affairs/defence assumptions underlying UK policy to the Public (or at least to those of us who are interested parties.”

Very much in the ‘fan’ bracket, but yes on the broad ambition.

“It just might be that as a whole, the UK public don’t actually want that at all anymore.”

Agreed, it is somewhat teleological. does the government lead or follow public will?

Nick
Nick
January 18, 2015 11:16 am

ACC No actually I think we saw the same thing across the Board. I just didn’t notice it here.

Nick
Nick
January 18, 2015 11:28 am

@Jedi

it is somewhat teleological. does the government lead or follow public will?

I would actually argue for “neither”. I think big institutions, even loosely defined ones, have their own institutional logic the drives decision making.

Worse, I think the UK one, at least in terms of post war foreign policy strategy and many economic policy decisions, has proven itself to be largely in error and slow to react to the way the world has changed. Having collectively splurged on debt, it seems the problems from the 1970s we thought had been banished are still here after all and worse still need to be addressed properly. “Its the economy stupid” is as true as ever.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 18, 2015 11:41 am

I think big institutions, even loosely defined ones, have their own institutional logic the drives decision making.
– AKA the”British Establishment “?
– gives some stability to direction as weak gvmnts come and go
– on the other hand, the agendas may not have much in common with the mandate the electorate thought they gave?

Chris
Chris
January 18, 2015 11:44 am

jedi – ref “does the government lead or follow public will” – at the moment? Definitely the latter. As soon as the media blow up outrage at some injustice the response from our leaders (should that be ‘Followers’?) is to jump up and make an announcement, be it for extra funds or a public inquiry or new laws. And in this respect all three of the groups defining themselves ‘Major Parties’ are exactly the same. There is a policy, and that policy is: There is no policy. Governance by kneejerk reaction to moral outrage on the media story of the moment. I am slightly overdoing the matter; there is one Gov’t Dep’t with a policy, and that is the Treasury. Whether you approve of it or not, or think its working or not, you have to accept the Treasury has been resolute in its cost-cutting policy. That makes the sum total of one MP prepared to stick to his plan no matter how unpopular he or his plan might be. One out of 650; the rest doing whatever they think gets them a bigger personal vote.

There are many forms of leadership, generally they involve leaders persuading followers to join their effort. Let’s hope the current politicians cannot be accused of ‘leading by example’ – its not a good example.

davidbfpo
davidbfpo
January 18, 2015 1:45 pm

As a civilan I have long been interested in political-military matters and know a few who have served in uniform.

The absence of the ‘British military blogger’ should not come as a surprise. Was there any meaningful, public debate in the UK military in recent years BEFORE the Internet arrived? I exclude the semi-official statements and “leaks” by senior officers, notably over where the money should be spent. At members only RUSI events I can recall making comments and asking questions that “caused waves”. General Tuzo remarked afterwards once debate was actually lacking @ RUSI and thanked me. Two Army officers stated if they had been so open “the next day they’d be on the carpet”.

The RUSI Journal rarely has any debate and letters to The Editor invariably come from those outside. If RUSIJ and RUSI itself were so open to debate – where are the articles or meetings involving Frank Ledwidge for example? Until very recently the RUSI group on LInkedIn was for one-way communication and unlike other such forums elicits very little debate.

Blogging is inherently open, even public and the media have been known to seek stories on blogs, viewing ARSSE when it started. No wonder discretion and silence are preferred by insiders.

British Army Review remains a ‘Restricted’ document, to my outside knowledge it has no blog nor an electronic edition. Why it is not in the public domain escapes me.

Is there a British equivalent to the American open blogs Company / Platoon Commander, which at one time were very valuable blogs (I no longer follow them).

Small Wars Journal, again American in origin and membership has a number of non-American contributors and a handful of known British military posters on the Council or Forum. I have asked a few serving officers why they don’t join or just view. Their answers are mixed, but appear to revolve around where does debate become dissent. Secondly debate can involve challenge and argument – which to this outsider simply appear to be “a step too far” in the blood of the many.

Peter Elliott
January 18, 2015 6:16 pm

I’ve observed before that the requirement for a peacetime senior (or potential senior) officer are very different in peacetime and wartime.

The peacetime officer must be an efficient manager, a resource controller, and an organisational team player.

The wartime leader has to be comfortable with risk, debate, options and making quick accurate decisions in the fog of war. Some of this can be practised with exercises. But the real driver of behaviour is recruitment and selection.

The bottom line is I’m not sure we select senior officers who are comfortable with open debate. The real talent is mostly selected out after their CO tours (Think Tim Collins).

Hopefully this does mean that in real crisis (like 1941) we will still have a generation of rising talent to draw on. But it doesn’t help loosen up the bowels of debate in the situation we find ourselves in now. Or get war winning senior leaders in place before the next war breaks out.

MereCaptain
MereCaptain
January 18, 2015 8:19 pm

I think the earlier points ring true from an insider perspective. I am no academic so will keep my comment simple and anecdotal. I was working on a vehicle with a SNCO of some vintage and he made mention that he ‘Missed the old school cavalry officers’ I thought this was massively counter intuitive to everything my generation had been taught and asked him to explain. ‘You see sir; back then officers didn’t need the money and weren’t afraid to speak up and tell it like it was. Now everyone’s too bothered about their promotion to ever say anything’.
Although this did really happen it is of course just one perhaps ‘rose tinted’ view but as ever, I find that soldiers have a way of getting to the nub of the issue.
Without going into my credentials and where I’ve been; I’ll just say that a lot of senior officers don’t seem to accept debate. Whether it’s based on evidence or opinion. This hasn’t changed and nor have their expectations and aspirations despite the swathes that have been cut through the armed forces. Now that to me is a situation worthy of debate.

Observer
Observer
January 18, 2015 8:51 pm

If you are comparing to the US, population demographics and population mindset also play a large part in the proliferation of US based military blogs. They have a more tolerant view towards dissemination of information and “freedom of speech”, with a larger pool of professionals to draw from (1.3 million servicemen vs ~200,000 in the UK, the ratio skews much more if you include ex-servicemen considering how much trouble the US gets itself into).

Sir Humphrey
January 18, 2015 9:22 pm

Posted once already on my Ipad, but seemed to have gotten lost!

The problem as I see it for many military and defence wannabe bloggers is that its time consuming, and that for me personally it was hard to stay fresh on current matters without harking back to a comfort zone. There is also the danger of being ‘too close’ to some material to be able to comment, and then by the time you feel you can safely comment, its no longer of interest or relevant.

For me personally, I still lurk out there and post under a couple of aliases, mainly on ARRSE but occasionally elsewhere. This is far less hassle than running a blog, where often the debate gets sucked down into time worn and frankly stunningly dull routes – usually on T45 with TLAM or other ‘fantasy fleet’ esque comments, but which bear no resemblance to any reality I’ve seen. There gets a point where you feel its pointless chipping in because the same old usual suspects are so busy telling people how things should be done if only they were in charge, they’ve never seemingly paused to think that actually theres usually a good reason why things are done in a certain way.

Would I restart Pinstriped line? To be honest, I’m not sure. I loved doing it, I love writing but there gets a point where its a heavy time sink and the balance between writing and having a career is challenging. Also you have to consider who pays the mortgage and whether its sensible to call that into question. There are many highly experienced defence commentators out there, if you know where to look. ARRSE still has some very qualified and experienced people, but their contribution is often drowned out by the loud noise of others.

The Other Chris
January 18, 2015 9:51 pm

Welcome back Sir H. Glad you’re still about.

x
x
January 18, 2015 9:56 pm

It is a dull debate that has had its day. War is too costly, it is bad for business. The womb and the first outgun the smart missle and rifle. And our greatest strategic failing is to believe we are all the same; that there is no them just us. Debating it endlessly makes no sense.

S O
S O
January 19, 2015 4:44 am

ASPI’s (think tank) “The Strategist” blog editors did a marvellous job at creating and sustaining a blog that attracts guest writers and visiting fellows’ contributions.
I don’t agree with many contributions there and know that relevant ASPI people are opposed to those blog texts as well, but that’s what allows for a debate on current affairs.

Australia has afaik a similar officer corps culture as the UK, so I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned.

Observer
Observer
January 19, 2015 6:18 am

In the distant past once upon a time before the internet, there were defence journal publications, the wood pulping, forest destroying paper version of what is available on the net these days. Debates often took the form of competing articles rather than post comments.

Obsvr
Obsvr
January 19, 2015 8:54 am

Of course there is another consideration, unlike some armies the UK is remarkably non-doctrinaire when it comes to tactics. Basically, tactics are the opinion of the senior person present and that may be a 2Lt! Furthermore tactics always depend on the situation as the commander on the spot sees it and in general there are no book solutions in the UK military view of the world. Can’t see how a blog would have much to offer.

On another note, I served in the HQ of the man who was probably the most able general UK has produced since at least WW2 (unfortunately he died relatively soon after retiring, but did produce a book ‘Roman Military Strategy’ IIRC). However, he once said that in WW3 he would have 5 decisions to make, and went through them with us. Even better, he did not suffer fools.

Chris
Chris
January 19, 2015 9:13 am

Obsvr – ref 5 decisions- if not subject to Official Secrets, that sounds like a post waiting to be written…

tweckyspat
January 19, 2015 10:03 am

minor point;

British Army review (BAR) is available online http://www.army.mod.uk/operations-deployments/23112.aspx

just need to register for access to the current issue and gem of gems all the archives

The problem of wartime and peacetime officers in British Military is far from new, see eg Andrew Gordon’s excellent ‘rules of the game’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rules-Game-Jutland-British-Command/dp/1591143365/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421661785&sr=1-1&keywords=andrew+gordon on the Ratcatchers v Regulators issue and the late Victorian Royal navy

Fatman
Fatman
January 19, 2015 10:24 am

The bottom line is that the English (and I mean English) fear public embarrassment above almost everything else (the ‘don’t make a fuss’ syndrome you can witness in most restaurants). From personal experience inside and outside the armed forces I have learnt the hard way that telling the truth or questioning orthodoxy comes under the label of rocking the boat and thus potential disloyalty. As an Officer Cadet I was once called a bloody fool by the Chief of the Air Staff for questioning his bland assertion in a large military meeting that the Nimrod was really a strategic weapon because it had a long range and could carry nuclear depth bombs. Afterwards two senior Army officers told me that ‘they wished they had challenged’ his nonsensical statement. But it was left to the most junior person present to do so and nobody backed me up. The great man had spoken and all we saw was the silence that followed.

Years later I was reported and disciplined for giving an authorised presentation where I examined the reasons for British failure on an operation. This was regarded as washing dirty linen in public, even though nothing I said could not be found in the public domain. British culture is essentially conformist and the Army, which was the last bastion of non-career officers who did not really need the money, became much more career-obsessed after Options for Change in the early 1990s. Since then it has been career suicide to dissent or criticise in all but the most mild terms. The MOD actively discourages bloggers and goes to lengths to identify those who disagree with the rosy PR picture it tries to present.

Writing a blog gives few tangible benefits in terms of career progression for serving military and civilian personnel (because you would have to be out of your mind to carry serious critiques of current issues) and risks the ending of your career. The cost-benefit ratio is just too poor. Those who have been on the inside know that the MOD Police and other security agencies monitor blogs like this one and are keen to identify culprits, so anyone working for HMG in any way is going to be very careful about the views expressed. That is why military personnel and civil servants eschew the open debate of contemporary issues and why they will not blog except in the most anodyne way.

We all know there are major subjects of interest where the knowledge of practitioners would be useful for wider publicunderstanding, but they are not going to be tackled. One could talk about a whole range of issues from the politics of FRES through the defence of the Falklands, the fiasco of Type 26, MOD’s love-in with exceedingly expensive private consultants, the ideological privatization of the Defence Support Group or whether there is really a need for FCAS, but a dispassionate critique by serving personnel is likely to lead to trouble. Debating UK performance in Iraq and Afghanistan inevitably leads to embarrassing questions about poor British staff training at JCSC and inadequate military leadership, which in turn leads to names and the old issue of embarrassment. Nobody must be criticized. That is why the British love making decisions by committee -so the inadequate or guilty cannot be identified.

Even after the Boer War there was a review on military failings and major changes,which led to the vastly improved performance of the BEF in 1914. I see no such post-Middle East study here or serious debate by practitioners of why it went so wrong. The continual delays in the release of the Chilcot Report, essentially to save the blushes of a coterie of senior politicians and military personnel really do bear out my point. The English do not do self-criticism and that is why there will never be such open debate as you see in the USA and elsewhere.

Nick
Nick
January 19, 2015 11:34 am

@Fatman

I would substitute “Establishment” for British apart from the restaurant point.

The “Rules of the Game” is a fascinating read btw.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
January 19, 2015 1:44 pm

DHF

Reverse slope positions teaching wrong, where can I find out about this? My interest is now only curiosity. I have been out the loop so long I should, as an RO said to me 30 years ago, be stuffed and hung on the wall.

Chris
Chris
January 19, 2015 1:56 pm

Fatman – oh dear; maybe I’m not as British as I thought… I was brought up to be responsible – if I take a decision its my fault if it goes to rats; if I trip over its because I wasn’t taking enough care. I thought that by definition is what being a responsible adult meant? I strongly dislike corporate collectivism where no one individual can be taken to task for a dumb decision because it was a decision taken by committee so no-one has any blame (read as “no-one’s career will be damaged”). No-one has any blame and all will claim 100% of the glory if things go well. Its all fluff & marketing in which personal careers are the one and only priority. Lies lies lies.

Surely there’s advantage in being clear and open in decision making? Equally surely if a decision can’t stand criticism its probably not a sound decision? But no; every manager now has a sign on his/her desk that says “The buck stops anywhere but here”.

Think Defence
Admin
January 19, 2015 3:43 pm

Some great comments here.

My feeling is that there are uncertainties about boundaries and a general fear of the unknown on the part of the MoD, they don’t like what they can’t control and the internet is perceived as being uncontrollable.

I also get the impression that the chiefs have very carefully planned narratives and anyone with loose lips is not wanted, no matter how low level the subject.

Without name dropping, there are channels behind the scenes from TD to the more established world of defence that sail serenely on.

A platform like Think Defence can offer an environment for sensible conversations that may or may not work, it may or may not change attitudes or foster professional debate and may or may not make a slight bit of difference but what it does do is offer a means of making some of the barriers mentioned in the post irrelevant.

So, let the ideas flow, let the chit chat go forth and as the core objective of Think Defence is to simply encourage sensible debate, can it do any harm?

S O
S O
January 19, 2015 8:09 pm

I’d like to give a honorary mention to “Defence of the Realm”, a milblog with forum and book that criticised the UK’s army establishment harshly.

I know from contacts that the author was intensely despised among the establishment/officer corps, but later events have largely vindicated him.
He was right more often than the establishment, and deserves recognition for it.

Think Defence
Admin
January 19, 2015 8:19 pm
Reply to  S O

Sven, you might not know this but Dr Richard North at Defence of the Realm was the one that got me into blogging, I count him a good friend.

Richard showed me the pre publication copy of the Ministry of Defeat and I helped him with a few details. He is a brilliant researcher. I also contributed to the forum on a regular basis before starting TD

TAS
TAS
January 19, 2015 8:55 pm

I struggle to post anymore for several reasons, not least lack of time (but also that TD no longer works on the archaic version of Windows we use for DII). However, a considerable put off is the repeated mantra that serving personnel are wrong in their opinions, that the military is incapable of making a single sensible decision and the general total antipathy shown by so many commenters. I could not begin to count the times educated and experienced people have commented here, only to be ignored, derided or discredited. If the great British public want the opinions of those serving, then they damn well ought to listen to what they have to say and not claim that ill informed armchair generals armed with Wikipedia know better. There is room for reasoned argument, but not for fantasy fleet waffle.

There is a useful measure of anonymity here that does, I believe, allow service personnel to be reasonably forthright in their opinions. There is little towing of the party line that I can see. But I think too many confuse confidence in their understanding of tactics with arrogance. Not so.

I for one keep reading and also commend RUSI and WOTR. Please keep up the good work TD.

Good to hear from you Sir H, and x.

Think Defence
Admin
January 19, 2015 9:25 pm
Reply to  TAS

TAS, I do believe some of the biggest arguments on here have been between those that are serving or recently left!

wf
wf
January 19, 2015 9:30 pm

“servicing”? What sort of professionals are they!

Think Defence
Admin
January 19, 2015 9:31 pm
Reply to  wf

I feel a quick edit coming on :)

Hohum
Hohum
January 19, 2015 9:37 pm

TD,

Interesting topic. First of course one must control for the fact that there are far more US service personnel and it is therefore inevitable that more of them will blog in basic numerical terms. More widely there is a cultural issue, in the US there is considerably more civilian control over the activities of the US Armed Forces. Everything from individual procurement programmes to grand strategy are not simply discussed with politicians but voted on and made law, individual budget line items have to be fought over with politicians, this encourages public discourse. To summarise, in the US if you want to get rid of your A-10 you had better damn well be able to explain why you don’t need it anymore or you might suddenly find yourself legally obliged to keep it. In the UK, MoD is given a pot of money with which it can largely do what it wants (within reason), rarely do programmes become substantially political and when they do its usually because the pot of money has been emptied and the MoD cant decide how to fix the problem- even then rather than things being voted on they are simply decided by a relevant collection of Ministers in a way that is only long after the event open to public scrutiny- this does not encourage public discourse.

As for Arm Chair generals and fantasy fleets, yup there are too many of those in the world, but the public does not have a monopoly on stupid. Given that Britain has lost the last two major wars it got involved in and is supposedly (though self-evidently isn’t) a true democracy taxpayers have every right critique the Armed Forces when they want to spend 2% of GDP every year.

Think Defence
Admin
January 19, 2015 9:41 pm
Reply to  Hohum

Fantasy Fleets, I honestly think we don’t see much of that now and if we are all honest with ourselves the amateur fantasy fleet devotee is knocked into a cocked hat by those with the shiny shoes in main building

Hohum
Hohum
January 19, 2015 9:47 pm

TAS,

One of the reasons for the situation you describe (antipathy towards the Armed Forces decision making) is that there is not a public dialogue so people can’t see why decisions are made. I spend a lot of time with archive material about defence programmes and more often than not one finds that the public version of events (usually the product of vested interests leaking to the press) is wrong and that the relevant individuals actually made precisely the right decision given the totality of facts at their disposal.

With that said, the lack of open debate is at least in part responsible for the humiliation that the Army in particular suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, there does seem to be arrogance in certain places and a refusal to listen to non-uniformed individuals.

IXION
January 19, 2015 9:49 pm

To those who say it all those civilian know nothings being ignorant and rude to the professionals.

Ah didums.

We the civilians are paying for this stuff. When you kill you do it in our name. So you better bloody well be ready to justify it and expect to answer questions both intelligent and daft.

Particularly given that the ‘experts’ have been been shown on many occasions over the years to be just as wrong as the armchair civilians.

Think Defence
Admin
January 19, 2015 9:51 pm
Reply to  IXION

To be fair Ixion, they don’t have to do anything

TD is voluntary for everyone

I take your point about engagement though just not necessarily on here

I am grateful for every single person that bothers their arse to put finger to keyboard :)

MereCaptain
MereCaptain
January 19, 2015 10:57 pm

Fatman’s piece aired most of the thoughts I was considering putting on here after I tested the water.
It absolutely echoes my sentiments and whilst it’s reassuring to read – it doesn’t help when I’m being tasked by a senior officer who doesn’t see how he has over-burdened me and diluted the product that I will be able to deliver (Is it me or is there a dearth of worker bees in Army 2020?)

So what can be done? Practical solutions?

Interestingly did anybody read the feedback points from The Army Conference disseminated today?
There was some talk of change in the way our senior officers are trained (if I remember rightly).

IXION
January 20, 2015 12:04 am

TD

I am also grateful to those who do.

It’s just that there is a thread on this post of professionals saying they do not do blogs because of people who challenge the conclusions the pros have come too.

They don’t have to blog. I make it clear I for one want them to.. But don’t expect a free pass.

TankFlyBossWalkJam
TankFlyBossWalkJam
January 20, 2015 4:02 am

Longtime lurker, first time poster. Hello all.

This is a fascinating topic, and an apposite one. The dearth of informed military comment is actively damaging to the armed forces’ cause. As one of the (very few) committed democratic socialists who take an interest in the military, I find myself constantly trying to explain its doings to the vast majority of my fellow travellers on the left who are either fundamentally uninterested in the military and/or deeply hostile to it. A hostility that causes much reciprocal mud-slinging (‘You lentil-munching trot/You baby-killing imperialist etc’) that is both needless and fosters ignorance.

An actual sustained opening of debate about the military might do much to educate society in general and the left specifically about the military and what it’s supposed to be for. We should be under no illusions that the left view the military as a fundamentally hegemonic state apparatus of only tangential use which constitues very meagre value for money. I doubt I need remind anyone on this site how supremely dangerous such thinking is.

Obsvr
Obsvr
January 20, 2015 8:36 am

@ Hohum

‘Major war’? War doesn’t get serious until the KIA reach five figures.

The two recent campaigns have been in coalitions, UK was not alone.

Just remind me, how did the USMC go in Sangin?

Think Defence
Admin
January 20, 2015 12:17 pm

Welcome to TD Tank…

Hohum
Hohum
January 20, 2015 5:54 pm

DavidHumeFootSoldier,

Yes the British army did lose both of those engagements, it abandoned Basra to Shiite militias and had to be bailed out in Helmand by the USMC.

James Fallows opinion is simplistic and cynical print bait and not representative of reality. Sure the US system periodically gets manipulated to funnel pork to certain states- but most of the time the debate is well informed and extremely useful. It recognises that taxpayers have a right to know how and why their money is being spent and can challenge those spending it when they feel its not being done properly. I would also point to the GAO that seems to be considerably more effective than the UK NAO and also makes a useful contribution.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
January 20, 2015 6:58 pm

DHF
Thanks, that is what I recall from the 70’s but I was also taught that defensive positions were sited two down so Brigade sited company positions, CO’s the platoon goose eggs, OC’s sections and platoon commanders the fire trenches.
Standing Patrols to be put out on the forward slope.

Reverse slope we were told also enabled admin and preparation out of sight of the enemy. Of course once they put the reversing klaxon and flashing lights on the MWT….

Screening force FOO etc were above my level but clearly required.

However all this was before UAV’s and when satellites were primitive. Do the infantry today envisage digging in and defending their position from fire trenches? I imagine a defensive line dug in as we understood it, even on the tree line, is very vulnerable to both precision strike and adiabatic weapons.

IXION
January 20, 2015 7:43 pm

DHF

I would like to apologise if I sounded too confrontational.

I was trying to say that the military have a very responsible job. It is a serious business. All its aspects need to be considered carefully and often justified.

I did not mean to imply that operational tactical decisions by serving officers under fire should be open to challenge by every tom dick or Ixion. Unless they are real fuck ups on a large tactical scale. Like Basra

Obsvr
Obsvr
January 21, 2015 7:49 am

@ Hohum

Given the Iraqi govt was run by Shiites, then minimising interference with them in Basra (not to mention the civilian deaths and destruction of a ‘firmer’ approach) seems a very good political judgement to me. It’s useful to remember that the local people were never the enemy in Iraq, the mistake was not withdrawing sooner after the defeat of Saddam’s forces, which was somewhat outside UK’s control.

As for Helmand, I repeat my previous question, how did the USMC go in Sangin? The overall problem was that UK was never willing to deploy the number of troops that were needed, although the number seemed reasonable in the early years, but Taliban could reinforce, UK couldn’t. Although as we’ve previously discussed on the forum, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight UK made a mistake in going South, failed to understand that history and local culture would make them Pushtun bait. Not forgetting that NL and CA gave up in the South some time before UK.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 21, 2015 8:05 am

The comment above about political judgement ignores the fact that the Shiites in Iraq after decades of suppression werenot a monolithic block but competing factions (to seize the power).

The Charge of the Knights was an inpromptu affair when the sitting Head Boy in Baghdad found out that his friends in Basra were going to try to overthrow HIM. The Americans had to tag along as they could not afford to see the first major Op spearheaded by their allies fail… They also thought they would get the capping of Iranian influence among theIraqi Shias as a bonus.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 21, 2015 8:13 am

Could not agree Møre with Hohum; IFK sometimes come across as angry on this blog, it is becauseof this contrast between the Americsn system and the UK:

“most of the time the debate is well informed and extremely useful. It recognises that taxpayers have a right to know how and why their money is being spent and can challenge those spending it when they feel its not being done properly. I would also point to the GAO that seems to be considerably more effective than the UK NAO and also makes a useful contribution.”

davidbfpo
davidbfpo
January 21, 2015 1:02 pm

Just an update. I followed the post by ‘tweckyspat’ that BAR was now available online on the basisBAR was open to the public if they registered – it is NOT. Confirmed after a very frustrating, slow encounter with the MoD website.

The RUSI Library has a limited back issues collection of BAR until 2009.

Daniel Bennett
Daniel Bennett
January 22, 2015 4:08 pm

Interesting…I was asking this question nearly 7 years ago (http://www.dsbennett.co.uk/2008/04/raf-technician-deletes-blog-after_29.html) and I’m not sure how much further forward we have come since then!

2014DIN03-24 “Contact with the Media and Communicating in Public” can hardly be helping.

(https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/351363/2014DIN03-024_Redacted-clean.pdf)

It essentially says that personnel do need permission before using social media on “any defence issue that goes beyond a non-contentious message relating to the individual’s role”. There are a list of topics in the appendix that you definitely need to get permission for as well in case there was any doubt.

The whole tone of this document seems to discourage any online engagement that strays beyond exceptionally narrow parameters. I can see why military personnel would be very reluctant to start blogging…

Fatman
Fatman
January 22, 2015 8:45 pm

@Daniel Bennett
Good post and supports my earlier entry. MOD is happy to have you blog if it is something of ephemeral or specialist interest, which will not be contentious (‘Paratrooper badges from around the world’ ; ‘British Regimental Military Music’). Similarly, if it is essentially a sports, travel or charity based blog (‘HMS Pansy’s Rugby Team’; ‘Countries I have visited on military exercises’; ‘Sierra Leone Military Orphans Blog’) then that will pass muster too. These may even be seen as having a mildly positive PR function as long as they remain straightforward accounts or descriptions.

The trouble is that with continual cuts and reorganisation within the armed forces, anything (and that means anything) that is seen as being even mildly critical of decisions made by the political or military leadership or which implies that current or future equipment, organisation, training, tactics, procurement, etc are less than perfect will likely lead to dire retribution.

I know from working with young officers that they are more than capable of expressing sensible and useful opinions and that many feel frustrated at the way in which superiors take the view that they should be little more than willing and uncritical cogs in a big wheel. To be controversial or critical is to make waves for your command or management chain and implies that a unit or MOD department is not being well run (i.e. tightly and effectively controlled) by its commanding officer or senior civil servant. Blocked promotion or extra duties for minor transgressions are a real deterrent. You could even have the Military or MOD Police turning up to take a statement ‘for the record’.

There are frank servicemen and civil servants; there are controversial servicemen and civil servants; but you won’t find that servicemen and civil servants who are both frank and controversial have stellar careers or much of a future in today’s modern defence set up, especially if they express their views via a blog. So of course they do not blog on anything except trivia. Who would? Job seekers allowance is pretty paltry.

Think Defence
Admin
January 22, 2015 9:35 pm

Welcome to TD Daniel

Si Longworth
Si Longworth
July 17, 2016 3:15 pm

This was an interesting read. I must say, that for some time, I DID blog for the Army, as you can see, here:

https://britisharmy.wordpress.com/uk/corporal-si-longworth-photographer/

Granted , this was a very low-level blog targeting very few readers but I enjoyed writing them and the subject was safe.

I recently changed jobs and am hoping to start writing again. This time, with Aviation in mind. Let’s see how well it is received.