Morale: British Troops Mutiny


February 19, 2009: The British Army is facing a mutiny as the brass try to limit Internet use by the troops. On February 4th, British Ministry of Defence issued new rules that, basically, prohibited the troops from using blogs, message boards social networking sites (like Face book) or online games (which usually involve parallel use of messaging systems). The response was immediate and unexpectedly mutinous. Troops openly insisted that they would ignore the ban. Some simply pointed out that these communications tools were essential to maintaining morale. The Ministry of Defence got the message, sort of, and began backing off. The February 4th order was promptly watered down, and is expected to fade away, like a bad dream.

Military personnel, especially in the West, were quick to adopt the Internet as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, as well as each other. The troops also exchanged information on tactics and techniques, as well as anything else they knew that could help keep them alive in combat. This alarmed the U.S. Department of Defense three years ago, and some restrictions were imposed on active duty bloggers. The troops did not fight back, as, once reminded, they understood that, in public forums, anyone could read what they were saying, including the enemy. So a lot of this information continued to be exchanged via email and private message boards. The military got into the act by establishing official message boards, for military personnel only, where useful information could be discussed and exchanged. All this rapid information sharing has had an enormous impact on the effectiveness of the troops, something that has largely gone unnoticed by the mass media.

The brass have not tried to discourage all this communication, because the officers use it as well, for the same reasons as the troops. Most junior officers grew up with the Internet, and many of the older ones were using the Internet before it became popularized in the 1990s. Even the generals of today, have experience with PCs when they were young, so have no trouble getting into this new form of communication. The military is eagerly building a "battlefield Internet" for use during combat, and parts of this are up and running and heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But much of this is still uncharted territory. There's never been an army before where all the troops were so well connected with each other. So far, the benefits have outweighed any liabilities. But no one is sure where it will go next, and the public is largely unaware of the impact, because the mass media has not grasped nature and extent of the changes.


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